Michael Bolton on What Inspired Him to Tell the Story of Detroit's Comeback With New Documentary

Michael Bolton
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Michael Bolton attends the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on Sept. 9, 2017 in Los Angeles.

Michael Bolton has loved Motown all his life as a music fan. Now, he's made a cinematic "love letter" to the Motor City.

Michael Bolton Presents American Dream: Detroit -- a documentary about the city's dramatic recovery from a 2013 bankruptcy -- screens at more than 450 theaters on Tuesday (May 15) via Fathom Events. Bolton, who co-directed the densely detailed 90-minute film with Christina Kline, was inspired by Detroit's story after a visit to the Motown Historical Museum to make an ad for his 2013 album Ain't No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville U.S.A. There, he was introduced to people who were working to bring Detroit back, including entrepreneurs such as Quicken Loans' Dan Gilbert and the Ilitch family, who owns the Little Caesars Pizza chain as well as the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings sports franchises.

"We had been told there was a major effort to bring back Detroit on a very large scale," Bolton, who will host a special screening of the film on Tuesday at Detroit's Redford Theatre, tells Billboard. "I got to meet some amazing people and found they were completely committed to this entire comeback of Detroit. I realized this story was so much bigger than my album. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars are being focused, wisely, on bringing back a community.

"Like anybody else I heard all of the (bad) things people say about Detroit. I thought someone needed to tell the story about all the good things that were happening there." 

Bolton, Kline and their team visited Detroit more than a dozen times during the five years of the film's production, conducting interviews with more than 100 people and finding the situation had improved even more each time they returned. "There were new restaurants, more office spaces filled, more people living," Bolton recalls. "It was exciting."

The film -- whose soundtrack includes well-known and obscure Detroit songs as well as two new Bolton originals, "Out of the Ashes" and "Keep Dreamin'" -- offers a concise history of Detroit's rise and fall leading up to 2013, as well as interviews with entertainers (Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Alice Cooper, Mayer Hawthorne, the Supremes' Mary Wilson, Martha Reeves and film directors Francis Ford Coppola and Jerry Bruckheimer), business luminaries such as native John Varvatos and politicians. The film also spotlights small-scale entrepreneurs and citizens impacted positively by the changes.

"When people say, 'Hey, what's going on in Detroit?,' it starts with a lot of great people," Bolton says. "We covered the stars and the giant entrepreneurs and their commitment, but it's more important at a human level, because these are individuals whose lives are moving in a great direction because there's all this activity going on and someone gave them the opportunity, and they're doing great things.

"You find yourself rooting for this story, for the success of the story like you would for a sports team."

After the film's premiere this week Bolton hopes to find it "the best home where it can have the longest life...between network and cable and streaming," though no deal has yet been announced. Meanwhile Bolton has other creative projects in development, including an album that will feature orchestral versions of his greatest hits that he'll record during June in Perth, Australia, for release later this year. He's also developing some new television projects and is contemplating some sort of commemoration of his 50th anniversary in the music business.

"I think maybe I feel more permission to enjoy myself now," Bolton says. "I feel like the first 20 years was a long, steep climb, and then 10 years after that was learning what I wanted to do with my voice and what my capabilities are, getting to sing with Ray Charles and Luciano Pavarotti, which was, like, beyond any dream I had. And now there's just a lot of fun to be had with music and comedy and whatever else looks interesting -- as long as music is always part of that mix."