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Jean Oelrich
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Former Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan legend Michael McDonald brings his soft-rock and soulful style of singing to Pacific Symphony Pops for a rockin’ night of hits

February 24, 2014

Five-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and keyboardist Michael McDonald lends his husky, soulful baritone to Pacific Symphony Pops for a concert featuring hits from his chart-topping career spanning more than four decades. From his 1970s beginnings singing back-up vocals with American rock band Steely Dan on songs including “Black Friday,” to enhancing the funky R&B sound of The Doobie Brothers, to his award-winning solo career, McDonald has established himself as a timeless yet distinctive artist in pops music. One of the most popular vocalists to emerge from the ’70s rock scene, McDonald commands the stage with his distinctive interpretations of classics like “What a Fool Believes,” “On My Own,” “Sweet Freedom,” “I Keep Forgettin’,” “Minute by Minute” and “Yah Mo B There.” His more recent album, “Soul Speak,” has been acclaimed as an “impeccable” crossover by BBC Radio since its release in 2008, when it also hit three different charts simultaneously.

Backed by the full symphony orchestra audiences lose themselves in a rich medley of Motown and rock with McDonald on Thursday through Saturday, March 13-15, at 8 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $35-$185. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“Michael is a great musician, singer, songwriter and pianist, and also a kind, unassuming and warm human being,” says the evening’s guest conductor, Albert-George Schram. “It will be so good to make music with him once again.”

The concert opens with the orchestra performing tributes to two other beloved song writers, Giacomo Puccini and Irving Berlin, in “Viva Puccini” and “Tribute to Irving Berlin.” Adding in Brahms’ stirring Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor and the classic jazz hit first made famous by Quincy Jones, “Soul Bossa Nova,” Schram and the Symphony bring the audience to their feet with these swinging hits.

“The audience will love these compositions!” says Maestro Schram. “Not in the least because Pacific Symphony performs them so very well. These are great musicians who love making music of all kinds.”

McDonald’s foray into singing began at the early age of 4, but it was his later passion for piano that led him to performing in local bands when he wasn’t composing and performing his own songs in the family garage. Dedicated to pursuing his musical calling, McDonald moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s. He soon found his first major break in working with Steely Dan, followed by a place as a full-time member in The Doobie Brothers band later that decade. In the years that followed, McDonald’s career took off and ultimately led to the 2003 and 2004 release of his Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling pair of albums, “Motown” and “Motown Two.” McDonald has lent his voice to records by an A-Z of artists, including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Vince Gill.

In addition to his expansive musical career, McDonald also has worked actively as a humanitarian throughout the years. Using his talents and visibility, McDonald has helped raise funds and awareness for multiple nonprofit organizations and charities, including MusiCares, the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and the 7UP Grammy Signature Schools Program. He most recently helped raise $1.6 million for tsunami relief alongside many other stars at Kokua for Japan, a benefit concert in April 2011.

Schram is currently resident conductor of the Nashville Symphony and resident staff conductor of the Columbus and Charlotte symphonies, where he has conducted classical, pops, holiday and educational concerts for all three orchestras. With his wide conducting repertoire, Schram brings experience in working with numerous distinguished classical artists, including pianists Lang Lang and Olga Kern and violinist Elmar Oliveira. As a pops conductor, Schram also has worked with a variety of chart-topping talents, including James Taylor, Art Garfunkel, Chris Botti, LeAnn Rimes, Boyz II Men, Kenny G, Olivia Newton-John, Aretha Franklin and many others.

The Thursday, March 13, performance with McDonald is sponsored by Sally Anderson and Tom Rogers. The Friday, March 14, appearance is sponsored by the Symphony’s Board of Counselors. The Symphony’s Pops series receives additional support from American Airlines, Avenue of the Arts Wyndham Hotel, K-Earth 101 and PBS SoCal.