Songs of Elton John, Billy Joel kick off Grand Rapids Pops’ 2016-17 season

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Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
Senior Manager of Communications and Media Relations
616.454.9451 ext. 139


GRAND RAPIDS, MI., Sept. 7, 2016 – Ever since Chuck Berry duck walked across the stage while playing Maybellene, the guitar has been the instrument that defined rock and roll.

But some of the greatest rock artists went a different route, playing keyboards, bass guitar or drums or focusing entirely on singing.

Two of the greatest singers and songwriters of all time in pop/rock music, Elton John and Billy Joel, were pianists.

It doesn’t matter whether you prefer Elton John’s Crocodile Rock or Candle in the Wind or Billy Joel’s My Life or Just the Way You Are, the Grand Rapids Pops are bringing music of both to town.

Pianist, singer and songwriter Jim Witter joins the Grand Rapids Symphony for The Piano Men on Sept. 23-25 in DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW. Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23-24 and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25.

Hear songs including Rocket Man and Your Song by Elton John and Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) and She’s Always a Woman to Me by Billy Joel.

Witter, who previously appeared with the Grand Rapids Symphony’s D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops in July 2015, returns to West Michigan to open the 2016-17 Fox Motors Pops series in DeVos Performance Hall.

“I was always a big fan of acoustic music, especially the folk of the ‘70s – James Taylor, Harry Chapin,” Witter recalls. “But my real mentors were Billy Joel and Elton John.”

Grand Rapids Symphony Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt leads the orchestra in songs spanning seven albums by Elton John and three by Billy Joel.

Elton John, originally from northwest London, and Billy Joel, who was born in the Bronx, and grew up in Levittown, New York, are among the most successful acts in pop/rock history.

Working with lyricist Bernie Taupin, Elton John has sold more than 300 million records and tallied 50 Top 40 hits. His song “Candle in the Wind 1997,” updated to honor Diana, Princess of Wales, sold over 33 million copies worldwide, become the best-selling single in the history of the UK and US.

Billy Joel, a six-time Grammy Award winner, has sold more than 150 million albums including 33 Top 40 hits in the United States.

John, age 69, and Joel, 67, have toured together several times.

Witter, a songwriter and pianist, performs the music of both in a show spanning the 1970s, from Elton John’s “Your Song” in 1970, to Billy Joel’s “Don’t Ask Me Why” in 1980.

The Canadian musician, originally from Hamilton, Ontario, has received awards and nominations from the Canadian Country Music Association, Dove Awards, and Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of Grammy Awards).

Witter, who has had 10 Top 10 radio hits in Canada and seven hit videos on CMT, launched The Piano Men in 2001.

Upcoming shows in the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2016-17 Fox Motors Pops series feature Hits of Barbra Streisand with vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway; a 50th anniversary celebration of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring Classical Mystery Tour; and a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration featuring vocalist Cathie Ryan, formerly of Cherish the Ladies.

See a full-length screening of ET: The Extra Terrestrial, with the musical score played live by your Grand Rapids Symphony; and enjoy the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops featuring the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus.

Season tickets for the six-concert series are available starting at $76. Go online for more on the 2016-17 Fox Motors Pops.         


Tickets start at $18 and are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9 am-5 pm at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.)

Tickets are available at the DeVos Place box office, weekdays 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets also may be purchased online at

Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for only $5 on the night of the concert by enrolling in the GRS Student Passport program. This is a MySymphony360 eligible concert.

About the Grand Rapids Symphony

Organized in 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, nine concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. More than 400 performances are given each year, touching the lives of some 200,000, nearly half of whom are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities all reached through extensive education and community service programs. Affiliated organizations include the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus; Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra; and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. GRS provides the orchestra for performances by Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet and sponsors the biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival, which returns in March 2017.

To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony, please visit the website or

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This activity is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.