As a true son of the South, Michael comes by his rootsy bonafides the authentic way. From the age of five, he grew up poor in the tiny, Mississippi gulf town of Waveland, which sits mid-way between New Orleans and Biloxi. “My dad was not making any money,” Michael says, “so my mother cleaned churches to try to pay the bills. We lived in a little camper that had holes in the floor. I remember if you looked straight through the hole in my bedroom floor, you could see the ground underneath. The funny thing is, I thought I had everything in the world.”
When his parents could not longer afford to raise him and his sister, Michael's grandparents took the kids to live with them in Waveland. His grandmother played piano in a church and taught Michael and his sister her favorite gospel hymns. “That’s what first inspired me to sing,” he recalls. “My grandmother took a liking to our voices. She said, ‘Both of you kids are very talented, you should sing.’ In a blue-collar family, she wasn’t really looking to me being an attorney. But she loved music and I think a light went off in her head that encouraging us to enjoy music would keep us out of trouble.”
Michael grew up listening to the country artists his grandmother favored, classics like Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, George Jones, and Ray Price. When he was 11, Michael sang at a wedding. One of the guests heard him and made him an offer. “This guy owned a bar, and he said, ‘I know you’re going on 12, but if you bring a legal guardian and you want to sing a karaoke set here … we can’t pay you anything, but you can put a tip jar down.’” He accepted and performed there for the next several years.
At age 15, Michael began writing songs. Figuring he needed some instrumental accompaniment, he picked up a guitar and taught himself to play. “Just being a singer won’t put bread on the table,” he says. “You’ve got to have something else going. I needed to be a musician.” And for his entire 16th year, while other kids enjoyed the gulf waters and outdoors, Michael holed himself up in his bedroom and learned to play guitar like the greats. A few years later, he was hired as a guitarist and back-up vocalist for the live celebrity impersonation show Biloxi “Legends in Concert.”
One night, a woman named Cookie Watkins, who played Tina Turner, came to Biloxi to do her act. “I was amazed at her voice,” he says. “I fell in love with soul because of Aretha Franklin, but Cookie Watkins is the real reason I sing the way I do. That’s when I switched from country to diving into all these R&B greats, like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Al Green, and Etta James, as well as the blue-eyed soul guys, like the Righteous Brothers, Joe Cocker, Michael McDonald, and Daryl Hall.”
At age 21, Michael took a job performing at the Las Vegas “Legends in Concert”and made the move out west, where he has lived ever since. Then, in 2005, his life was changed forever when his grandparents’ hometown of Waveland was decimated by Hurricane Katrina. “Their house was demolished,” he says. “The whole town was flattened by the tidal surge. My grandparents had to move into a FEMA trailer, but they couldn’t take it for too long, so they moved into another mobile home in the woods. All I wanted to do was find a way to help.”
Enter America’s Got Talent. In the spring of 2010, Michael auditioned for the show, which debuted in June. His obvious talent and genuine emotion about his family’s situation resonated with 4 million viewers, who voted him the winner after the 31-year-old performed a roof-raising rendition of “When A Man Loves A Woman.” On that day, a fedora-wearing star was born, though he openly admits “winning was not in my plan.. I was just hoping to get some attention from the record labels so I could sign a deal, make some money, and buy my grandparents a house.” He kept his promise and used his AGT winnings to build his grandparents a new home in Mississippi in 2011.
Soon after the show ended, Michael signed with Epic Records and started working on his first Epic record with Grammy-winning producer Don Was (The Rolling Stones, Elton John, B.B. King). The record turned out to be Southern Americana at its finest. “Oh, it’s swampy,” he says. “It’s Michael Grimm leaving his hat on. This is me. It’s the way I’ve always been since I was a teenager, wearing hats and singing the music that I love to sing.” But he didn't just sign with Epic when the show ended. He also earned a devoted fan base of millions, including many avid fans who call themselves “Grimmlins” and “Grimmlettes” and fly thousands of miles to see his show.
Today Michael is actively recording, headlining his own show in Las Vegas and touring all around the world. For more on Michael Grimm, visit www.MichaelGrimmMusic.com and sign up for his email list.