14 May 2011

unplugged on Oprah: Michael Bearden speaks

Making her second appearance on Oprah, in May 1998 (13 years ago!), Madonna gave two stunning live performances, the TV debut of Ray of Light and an acoustic version of Little Star – her one and only live performance of the song to date.

Madonna’s Musical Director on Oprah was Michael Bearden. Michael – who has worked with many a music legend, from Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson – began working with Madonna in 1993, as a keyboard player on her Saturday Night Live appearance and The Girlie Show, and continued to work with her, as Musical Director on the Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light promotional tours. 

When I spoke to Michael, he told me about Madonna’s performance of Little Star:

“Madonna is not a trained musician but, she knows what she likes. She also hates to make mistakes. I would just explain to her that sometimes the best ideas come from mistakes. I would encourage her to just be vulnerable and whatever comes out will come out. Don’t worry about making a mistake. She embraced the concept when we performed on Oprah during her Ray of Light period.
We performed two songs on that particular show. We did the first song (Ray of Light) like we always do, full out with the band. We did the second song (Little Star) with just a trio acoustically. Madonna had rarely done this kind of performance on television. It was the first time she did it in the nine years I worked for her. She was a little nervous and in fact, we had to perform the second song twice for the taping. Oprah only allowed it because it was Madonna. She runs a tight ship. I love Oprah! Madonna nailed it the second time, although she was still a little nervous.

She thanked me as she was leaving the show and was very happy about the show. It was the first time in a long time I had seen M so happy about anything having to do with her career. I think Lola (her daughter) had a lot to do with her good mood during that period. I was happy because Mo was pushing herself musically and trying to reach for something new. It was a big change from how we used to do things. We would often rehearse until the song had no life, in my opinion. She was now leaving room for spontaneous possibilities and I liked that approach.”

Click here to watch Madonna’s gorgeous acoustic performance of Little Star (with Michael Bearden on piano) at Madonna-TV.comthe bestest Madonna TV site on the internet!


julian said...

Great article!
I'm a huge madonna fan, and I've always thought that her best live performance was 'Ray of Light' on Oprah. Gorgeous vocals, ethereal beauty, and a relaxed performance style that we hadn't seen from her. She was happy and at her artistic peak. I loved the backstory to this story - bravo! Keep up the great work - Madonna's music is such a little explored art.

Pud Whacker said...

brilliant post peter. i love everything i read on here - youre the greatest. xo

Anonymous said...

Thanks guys - you're the greatest!

I've been doing lots of exploring about Madonna's music over the past number of years, so look out for loads more coming soon!

universoplástico said...

I enjoy a lot every article uploaded on this blog, those stories behind Madonna's world are always welcome.
I hope someday Madge gives her fans away an entire unplugged.

Rabbitbunny said...

I agree with Julian. Beautiful art ballad for Lola, Little Star
-the artwork is called. In this performance, Material/Etherial Evita Mother Madonna Ciccone is very happy, yet there is an
almost-choking sadness in her voice! You know, the Catch, Quiver and Sob that Madonna is known for and it makes me wish she would do an entire album of acoustic performaces whether playing her acoustic guitar, a piano or a full orchestra-to convey the honesty and beauty of her voice as Madonna grows older. Maybe Someday...?
-apologies to Oh Father and
Sooner or Later, to name just two examples of Lady Madonna's brilliance!

VJ Brendan Thompson said...

I was in the Audience for The Oprah taping and Madonna actually Did "Ray Of Light" Twice as well. At the end of the show Oprah told the crowd that they had to re-tape the opening of the show with "Ray of Light" again, Oprah Told Us "Pretend The Past Hour Never Happened and Please keep up the Energy" Also the Reason Madonna had to sing "Little Star" twice is that she messed up the words the first time. All in all I still can't believe I was there and Madonna sang four times all together, I was also the only audience member who got to shake Madonna's Hand - It really was a magical Time.

Wanda Elaine said...

I loved Madonna on Oprah...who was the trio you were with??? Nile Rodgers and Tony Thompson???

Love your music

Wanda Elaine said...

I loved Madonna on Oprah...who was the trio you were with??? Nile Rodgers and Tony Thompson???

Love your music