Exclusive Interviews with Shirley Lewis and the Official George Michael Band
Most fans of George Michael will recognize Shirley Lewis’s gorgeous smiling face as one of George’s lead backup vocalists. Shirley is a singer and producer and has worked with several major artists over the years and even ventured into a solo career at one point. She is most proud of her work and decades-long friendship with George Michael. Shirley began working with George in 1986 on Wham! The Final concert at Wembley Stadium and continued touring and recording with him for many years throughout his career up until his untimely death on Christmas Day in 2016. Shirley’s distinctive vocals can be heard on George Michael’s greatest hit songs such as Father Figure and Freedom.
I was beyond thrilled to receive a call from Shirley’s public relations team approving my request for an interview in addition to her connecting me with several members of the Official George Michael Band (formerly called Cowboys & Angels) for the article as well. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge George Michael fan and have loved his music since the first time I heard Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go in 1984 which was the first #1 single for Wham!
Cowboys & Angels Concert
Shirley and I connected briefly last year when she was organizing the production of the Cowboys & Angels concert at Brixton Academy on June 25, 2019. The Cowboys & Angels concert was an unofficial tribute celebrating the life and music of George Michael, performed by his original band members who worked with George Michael from the days of Wham! and throughout his astonishing career for over 35 years. Band members included: Michael Brown, Jo Garland, Jay Henry, Katie Kissoon, Shirley Lewis, Dee Lewis, Lea Mullen, Trevor Murrell, Phil Palmer, Andy Hamilton, Lincoln Jean-Marie, and Musical Director Chris Cameron.
There hasn’t been an official tribute to George Michael since he died. When I heard about the unofficial tribute concert that his former band members were organizing, I immediately bought my ticket for the concert and booked my flight to London. For me, I appreciated the fact that the people that worked with George the most over the years were putting on a concert rather than getting someone to fill in for him. The Cowboys & Angels Concert was an amazing experience for me as I was able to celebrate George’s 56th birthday with his former band members and thousands of his fans. I sat down with Shirley Lewis and band members Dee Lewis, Lincoln Jean-Marie, and Trevor Murrell to take a look back at the concert and to also get an inside look at their relationship with their boss and friend – George Michael. You can read my article covering the 2019 Cowboys & Angels Concert HERE.
When you had the concert last year, the band was called “Cowboys & Angels.” Why did you change the name to The Official George Michael Band?
“It is hard to believe that the one-year anniversary of the concert is upon us.
As you know, we named ourselves Cowboys & Angels after the song written by George. Some people weren’t familiar with the song, so we changed the name of the band to put more focus on George Michael.” – Shirley Lewis
How did the Cowboys & Angels concert come to be?
“I had just moved back to London from Los Angeles and I was flipping through channels on television for something to watch and came across a reenactment documentary about George. The entirety of the show was absolutely negative and was focused on him being gay, taking drugs, how he was conflicted and had a terrible life. At the end of the documentary, there was a still frame of the actor that played George on the documentary with the words “George Michael would only be remembered for his problems with drugs and alcohol.” When I saw that, I was so upset and screaming at the television. That was not him at all. They didn’t know George. I was literally in tears and saying there is no way George will be remembered for those things.
At the time I was contemplating doing some type of event for George, the George Michael Estate and David Austin (George Michael’s best friend), were trying to put something together to remember George. But it turned out the timing wasn’t right.
So, I talked to some of the guys in the George Michael band about getting together and finding a nice bar or local venue that we could get together and sing his songs and celebrate George’s musical legacy. George had given us lots of employment over the years not to mention his loyalty and friendship. Our families have been to his concerts and knew him as well. Originally, we were just going to invite family and close friends.
In talking to a friend of mine that is a promoter, he suggested that we do some type of event that his fans could be involved in as well. I didn’t know if anyone would even be interested in seeing us. I kept thinking that it might be weird when we don't have George on stage with us and asking myself why people would even come. My friend assured me that a concert would be authentic as a lot of George’s fans know that I and others involved were with him from the beginning until the end and people would see the sincerity in honoring him. I was like okay, if you can get a venue for us then we would do it.
I called all of the band and told them about this idea, and they were all totally up for it. I then called and talked to George Michael’s sisters Yioda and Melanie who I have kept in touch with over the years to get their thoughts on the concert and they were happy for the concert to go ahead . The last step was asking members on The Official George Michael Band Facebook page (formerly Cowboys & Angels) if they thought the tribute concert was a good idea, and most people did so we moved forward.” – Shirley Lewis
Can you tell us a special memory that you have with George Michael?
“It is extremely precious to me is the fact that George called me in to sing on his first album – Faith. Out of all the singers that he had worked with during his time with Wham! in addition to his solo projects, I was the only female singer that he brought in to work with him on the Faith album and that was amazing for me and definitely a career highlight. Out of everyone in the world, he chose to use me which I think is pretty incredible.
I was there with him when he was writing and putting the final touches on Father Figure which is a massive part of his legacy of songwriting and very special to me as it is just him and I on the track. I remember witnessing him writing the lyrics “Greet me with the eyes of a child.” It was a really special moment to me as I had my young daughter with me at the time and she was on the floor with her coloring books and toys and I remember hoping they would be enough of a distraction to keep her happy and quiet during the recording.” – Shirley Lewis
Did you sing backup on all of George Michael’s tours?
“The Faith tour is the only one of George’s tours that I didn’t do with him and it is literally, the biggest regret of my life. At the time he asked me, I had a solo record deal and my single was coming out. The Faith tour was a long tour and I didn’t think I could do the whole tour with my other obligations. I felt terrible that I couldn’t do it for him and telling him no was difficult for me.
After not being able to support George on the Faith tour, I was honored again to be a part of the Listen Without Prejudice album which features his award-winning song Freedom which was again is just the two of us. I felt like he wanted to give me something special with him. Incredible memories that I am extremely grateful for.” -Shirley Lewis
Can you share a funny story with George and the band that you guys had together?
“On the 25 Live Tour, we had the girl backup singers which included me, Lori Perry, Sharon Perry, and Lucy Jules. Our dressing room was always located next to George’s room. We always had so much fun and George would always tell us that he could hear us laughing and having a good time.
We had this pre-concert ritual where we would have everyone in the band come to our room and take a silly group picture before going onstage to perform. We kept the pictures from each show and placed them on the walls of our dressing room. One night we were making so much noise that George came over and asked what we were doing and why wasn’t he invited? We honestly told him that we didn’t think he would want to do it as you had to make a really silly face and your picture would be put on the wall for everyone to see. He surprised us all and said he wanted to be in the photos as well, and he did it! It was really funny as he knew the band had been doing these photos for like weeks and he wanted to be in on the fun! We can never show these pictures of course because we are not attractive in these photos and showing things we probably shouldn’t be showing. I may have one photo that we can show in the future, but not at the moment.” – Shirley Lewis
What are your plans for the Official George Michael Band?
“A lot of the members have other things going on and they can’t really commit to be a part of this band which is completely understandable. We do have a few members that are very committed and just want to enjoy playing George’s music together in a way that George would want it to be done and without having a lead singer. Kind of the incarnation similar to what we did at Brixton.
For the most part, the band will consist of members who have been with George the longest which is obviously me, Jay Henry, and Phil Palmer, along with Lincoln, Lucy, Dee, and Lea Mullen are the core members now.
When concerts are approved to start back up, we plan on moving forward playing smaller venues in London and around England. We may do some European shows next summer starting with Milan. Timing of our shows will most likely be around George’s birthday (June 25th) and around the Christmas holiday. Two significant dates for George’s family, friends, and fans. Going forward we will be working closely with David Austin and the Estate.” – Shirley Lewis
Do you know if George Michael’s Estate is planning on do anything official to honor George Michael?
I do think there will be something big and official but not right now. I have no idea when that will take place.
Back when we were planning the tribute concert, there was a write up in the paper saying that George’s estate endorsed the event and that Andrew Ridgely and some of George’s friends would make surprise appearances. None of which was true. George’s sisters Melanie and Yioda along with their lawyer were so amazing. They actually wrote a retraction for me to send to the newspapers.
I had a lovely dinner with Melanie, Yioda, and Shirley Kemp (original Wham! backup singer and lifelong friend of George). I’ve always had a lovely relationship with them and have known them for over 30 years. It was devastating to hear the news about Melanie’s passing this past Christmas. The amount of pain that George’s family has suffered is truly unbearable.” – Shirley Lewis
One of my favorite songs by George Michael is “Kissing A Fool.” Is it true that he recorded the song in just one take?
“I don’t know if that is true as I wasn’t there when he recorded the song. Knowing George though, it is quite possible that’s true. His voice was phenomenal. The quality, the breathiness, just the feeling that came out was amazing. I think that is what he liked about my voice as I could mimic the breathiness that he actually really loved in his sound. So, I think that is why he kept me around for so long – for my breath (laughing). Not everyone can say that!” – Shirley Lewis
Can you please give us an inside look into your relationship with George Michael?
“My relationship with George was through music. We had a connection that I don’t think a lot of people have. Any show we would do and we would be rehearsing Father Figure, he would say – “oh this was just me and you Shirl” it was his little acknowledgment to me. It was very sweet.
I know this is going to sound crazy, but I sometimes talk to him and ask him for a sign. For example, during the time when we were putting the tribute concert together, I asked George to give me a sign to let me know if it was the right thing to do. Then, I would get little answers like hearing his music in the car on the radio or on the speakers in a shop. It always seems that when I need to hear him, something will happen, and I know it is a positive sign from George. For example, one day I was clearing out of some stuff when I moved back to London and a card that George had given me for my birthday fell out of my drawer. When I read the card, it brought back so many pleasant memories and made me feel so lucky to have known him.
I have been blessed to have worked with him as a singer and to have toured with him so many times, but his friendship meant more to me than anything else. – Shirley Lewis
Shirley Lewis Celebrates 60 Years of Life
It is hard to believe, but Shirley just celebrated her 60th birthday. Everyone who comes in contact with her can tell you that she has an amazing spirit and a positive outlook on life. These must be the reasons why she looks so youthful! In approaching her milestone birthday, Shirley told me that she has been looking back and reflecting on all that she has done in her life. I asked her what in her career is she most proud of.
“My proudest work and greatest achievements as an artist were working with George Michael. I have worked with many wonderful artists over the years such as Sting and Elton John and they’ve all been amazing. But my career has spanned 30 years with George Michael. I am proud to be known as a George Michael singer.
To me, I believe in the saying “everlasting life.” I believe that no matter what your religion or whatever you believe in, people really do live on forever because they live on in the way people are speaking about them. My young nieces and nephews know George Michael through me. We hope to continue to keep his memory alive through his music and his fans who want to be a part of it.” – Shirley Lewis
Shirley Lewis Podcast and Documentary
Shirley is currently working on a podcast with her younger sister Dee Lewis-Clay called A Third Above where they discuss their music careers and knowledge of the music industry, and other topics such as motherhood and family. The two sisters also have a documentary in development based on their combined perspective of their many years in the music and film industry.
Follow Shirley Lewis on Instagram here.
Dee Lewis-Clay is a world-renowned Vocalist/Writer/Composer and youngest Lewis sister.
She signed her first record deal at 17 years old and has been featured on numerous multi-platinum selling albums. She is currently a Featured Vocalist in the movie industry and has worked on movies such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Madagascar,” “Rio” and “Wonder Woman” to name just a few.
Dee is also a member of the Official George Michael Band. She initially worked with George Michael at the very first European MTV Awards held at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Were you excited to be a part of Cowboys & Angels Concert?
“Absolutely! When Shirley asked me to be a part of Cowboys & Angels, it was perfect timing as I was just moving back to England from California. I wanted to do something with Shirley to commemorate George and his musical legacy. To me, the show was about love and connection for George fans that were left empty after his passing. He has so many amazing songs and memories attached to them and we wanted to give fans some type of connection with him.” -Dee Lewis-Clay
Lincoln Jean-Marie is a Singer, Songwriter, and Producer. He has worked with Craig David, Lemar, Will Young, Leona Lewis, Robbie Williams, Calvin Harris, Sir Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, and Ellie Goulding amongst many others. He was one of George’s backing vocalists on his U.S, Europe, and Australia tours in addition to performing with him at the closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics.
What was your first impression of George Michael?
“It was in 2006 and it was the first day of rehearsal. Everybody was gathered together on a break as we had been there since the morning. Early afternoon, we see this tall cool dude walk in with a friend of his and he saw us and he gave us a bit of eye contact and then he went left into the main hall where everyone was rehearsing. That was my first time seeing him in person and outside of his videos on tv and I was like, hey that’s George Michael! The new members including myself went in we introduced ourselves to him and he was so nice. He was quite reserved with us as he didn’t know us because we were new, but I remember him opening up and talking to a few of his long-time band members that were there. -Lincoln Jean-Marie
Did members of the press ever approach you for a negative story on George Michael?
“We (band members) have been approached several times over the years by various people trying to get a negative piece of information on him. Honestly, there was really nothing to say. George meant the world to us and it wasn’t even a question about our loyalty to him to do or say anything that would shine a negative light on him.
I can tell you that he was great at taking the piss out of himself. The British press were always trying to find out a bit of scandal about him and he would come in and make fun of the stories they wrote about him. He would come in and hang out with me and Jay Henry (vocalist) and we would have a laugh. It always caught me off guard how he was so normal. Speaking to him was like speaking to my next-door neighbor over the fence. That is how down to earth he was.
For everyone in George’s band, we have worked with several artists over the years. He was a really, really wonderful person. Thing is, all of his band members have worked with so many different artists over the years. When it comes to one, unanimously for everybody in his band, he was the best artist to work for as a person, as a human being.
A lot of times, you don’t really get close to the artists you work for. You turn up, you do your lines, you do your thing and then you go. But there was a little extra with him that you just naturally respect him and love him as a person.” – Lincoln Jean-Marie
What was George Michael really like?
“I think George was probably the most sincere person that I’ve ever met in the music industry. In an industry full of people with different agendas or wanting to please people for whatever reason, that man never did anything he didn’t want to do. He lived true to his inner core values. He was the epitome of cool. He was just a very cool dude. He didn’t try to be cool, it just something that he was. He probably didn’t realize how cool he was, which made him even cooler. It truly was an honor to know him.” – Lincoln Jean-Marie
I’ve always admired the diversity in George Michael’s band members, even from his days in Wham! Do you think that was done intentionally?
“I never had that conversation with him. But I’ve got a feeling that he was a man that wanted the best of everything. If he wanted a suit, it had to be the finest looking suit. He wanted really good things. He was into visuals. I think he was looking for the people that were conducive to making his music come alive. We had never met, but I was so chuffed that he chose my voice. He chose a lot of people that he didn’t know just by listening to what they did. Everyone was hand-picked. It just happened to be a multi-cultural band. I think he liked what he liked, and he handpicked who he wanted in the band and he was very loyal. Since it worked, he didn’t want to change the formula.” – Lincoln Jean-Marie
What did being a part of Cowboys & Angels Concert mean to you?
“The Cowboys & Angels Concert is probably one of highest honors I’ve ever could have had being on the stage in Brixton. When we came out, all we could see was a sea of people. It was packed to capacity. We heard people had come in from all over the world. We were determined to give the audience an amazing show that they came all this way for.
At the beginning of the show, there is this one little bit where we did a little refrain part, then there was a big drum roll and then we went into acapella and at that time, many of the fans told us that a white feather dropped down from the sealing gently floating down to the floor. Talk about goosebumps. It was really a magical show. It was emotional, and some people cried, but we just wanted to do the absolute best for him and the fans. We could just imagine if we weren’t up to standard, him rolling his eyes as he had such a high standard for everything.” – Lincoln Jean-Marie
Trevor Murrell began his long association with George Michael initially recording with Wham! He was the drummer on all their live work and studio recordings and in addition to touring around the world with Wham! Following the final Wham! concert at Wembley Stadium, he went on to tour and record with over 40 major recording artists in various genres over the years. Trevor now lives in Alicante, Spain where he works with local artists including Julio Iglesias, Danza Invisible, and Ana Torroja.
Please tell us why you wanted to take part in the Cowboys & Angels concert?
“It was very important to Shirley and the other band members for me to be a part of the tribute as I was the only musician who worked with him at the beginning of his career when he was with Wham! When Lea Mullen (drummer) called me up to see if I was interested, I was excited to be asked and was happy to participate.
Playing with this great bunch of musicians and singers is a luxury I couldn’t resist. They are simply the most amazing people to work with. George was the consummate artist and professional. Therefore, working with this band, which was so integral to him and his music, allows us all to genuinely portray his music in exactly the manner that he desired when he was here with us. Needless to say, he will forever be missed.” -Trevor Murrell
How did you get the job as the drummer for Wham?
“I was working with Kim Wilde at the time and got a call from London from a producer saying that he was looking for a drummer who could play funk. He told he had two young kids that are going to start recording and he wanted me to come and record a title or two with them to see how it goes. So, I came in and did a session with them and it ended up doing the rest of the album. And the rest is history. I became the drummer for Wham! for the duration of their career.” -Trevor Murrell
What do you remember most about the early Wham! days?
“When I first met George and Andy, they were teenagers just getting into the music industry and really excited about it. We really did have a lot of fun on the road. You wouldn’t believe what it was like with these kids. It was real high energy all of the time. I remember watching George dance a few miles around the stage each night, he had so much energy.
When I look back at my time with Wham! I remember the fun times we had together touring and recording. It felt like we were all members of a band, it was inclusive. We weren’t George Michael’s backing band; it just wasn’t that kind of vibe.” -Trevor Murrell
Tell us about the Wham! fans.
“I remember the first time we came over to the states to do the first tour. The tour was booked 18 months in advance. Each show was sold out and there were at least as many fans outside that didn’t have tickets as there were fans who had purchased seats inside the venue.
At the end of the shows, we had to get police escorts to take us back to the hotel. We actually had to ride in police vehicles. With the throng of the fans outside, they were worried about us being injured. It happened consistently during the tours in America.
Kids would always try different things to try and get into the show. Some of their actions were quite innovative. Our first stop in the USA was in Los Angeles at the Palladium. I remember on one of the nights we played there was this guy was disguised as a waiter. He looked all official with his tray of glasses, a towel over his arm and everything. George was in his dressing room with Liza Minnelli and all of a sudden, we heard Liza screaming as the guy dressed as a waiter had pushed his way into the room. He was quickly apprehended.
There was also a gig in Los Angeles where we played in front of 140K people. I remember watching jumbo jets flying overhead and not being able to hear the any sound from the jets as the audience screaming was so loud. The fanmania was real for Wham!” -Trevor Murrell
Can you share a favorite memory with George?
“From the first time I worked with George I could see that he was extremely talented, and I knew he would go on to do bigger things in the music industry.
I remember when we did the “Make It Big” album. All of the musicians and singers flew out to the South of France to record the album.
When we got there, we were all like, what are we going to do? George only had some ideas for the songs but hadn’t written them yet. We would all be lounging around the pool during the day and George would suddenly say “I’ve got an idea” and we would all head to the studio and knock it around and by 8 or 9 in the evening we’d be done.
Just think of the courage of anyone in the type of situation. You’re going to make an album and you’ve got a bunch of musicians that you’ve flown out. He had that much confidence in himself that he could put it all together. He was so young and learned so much so quickly, it was impressive.” -Trevor Murrell
What was it like being back at Brixton Academy where the Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go video was recorded and a few of Wham’s last concerts took place?
“I mentally reflected back on our times there. So, we’ve always had a connection with the Brixton Academy. Seeing it again after all these years evoked so many memories. I remember someone in Wham! management had the bright idea of advertising that there was going to be a video being made and that if you wanted to be in the video to just show up. It turned out that hundreds of kids took the day off of school that day to be in the video. They might have told their parents they were going to school, but they ended up at the Brixton Academy instead. Thousands of kids showed up and we couldn’t accommodate them, so they were running around outside. It was chaos. I remember that very vividly. Police had to speak to a few parents about it.” -Trevor Murrell
Do you have any closing comments that you would like to give about George?
“I would just like to say to those who love his music to continue to listen to his music. And to all those who are just being introduced to it, please continue to listen to it.
George was a good person with a huge heart and whatever we can do to prolong his efforts and his memory would be a very positive thing to do. He has left a legacy of very rich and valid recordings to reflect on. He was a great human being and an exceptionally talented artist.
With the Official George Michael Band, we will try our best to try to prolong his memory, extend his legacy, and portray his music to the best of our ability. We welcome all of his fans to come out and enjoy our tributes as they are fun to see and something we enjoy doing so very much. When we play his music, it is almost like he is on stage with us.” -Trevor Murrell
Thank You Official George Michael Band!
A big thank you to Shirley Lewis, Dee Lewis-Clay, Lincoln Jean-Marie, Trevor Murrell, and Michelle Fredericks for working with me on this article. But most of all, thank you for all that you do to help keep George Michael's memory alive. I am one fan that truly appreciates your time and effort in all that you do! It was wonderful talking to all of you and being able to get an inside look into your relationship with George Michael. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet him in person. But, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend four of his concerts while he was still with us. I will always treasure those memories. It was wonderful hearing from all of you that he was as talented, caring, and generous as he appeared on television and at his concerts.
Looking forward to seeing everyone at the next Official Georgia Michael Band tribute concert!
Check out the entire Cowboys & Angels Concert!
Video Credit: Yolanda Reintjes
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Autumn lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and children. She is a travel addict, self-professed foodie and has an obsession with cycle/spin classes.
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