born cherilyn sarkasian lapierre, in 1946, the artist who would eventually come to be known only as cher came of age just as the music industry shifted its focus from the east coast to the west. as motown prepared to relocate to hollywood, and members of the mamas and the papas formed friendships that would result in pop superstardom, cher was a faithful disciple of phil spector. cher trained her distinct vocals in rehearsals with spector's top act, the ronnettes, and recorded the spector-produced single "ringo, i love you" (released under the name bonnie jo mason), prior to joining forces with would-be writer and producer, sonny bono in 1963. originally billed as caesar and cleo, the two released the singles "the letter", "do you wanna dance" and "love is strange", with little effect. when cher was signed to liberty records as cherilyn, in 1964, bono came along as producer and husband. mimicing the success of phil spector's 'wall of sound', the two released "dream baby", which became a hit in their native los angeles. with the promising success of "dream baby", sonny & cher, once again a duo, were signed to reprise records, where, in 1965, they recorded the first sonny & cher single, "baby don't go". 1965 saw another label change to atco, a division of atlantic, and another nominally successful release, "just you". about this time, liberty records, who still had a contract with cherilyn, became anxious for another release. inspired by byrd's covers of bob dylan songs that they'd witnessed in l.a. clubs, cher released the bono-produced cover "all i really want to do". living a double life as solo artist cherilyn and one half of the duo sonny & cher, cher enjoyed success in both roles. though the eventual success of "i got you babe" would overshadow her intial solo career, her early solo persona is remembered for dealing with unusually sensetive subjects, for the time, such as teen pregnancy and divorce. big-time success, however, would come in the form of "i got you babe". though an obvious product of the 1960s, sonny & cher were far less threatening to mainstream america than other hippie icons, such as janis joplin and cass elliot. though garbed in the outlandish uniform of the hippie, sonny & cher were a married couple, and it wouldn't be two long before their blessed union was further strengthened by the birth of their daughter, chastity. this cross-over ability allowed "i got you babe" to become an international hit and an enduring track on the soundtrack of a generation.
towards the end of the decade, cher's double life would coallesce into one, as bitterness over her relationship with imperial records forced her to move her solo career to atlantic, where she was paired with a new producer (leaving sono to focus on their career as a duo). times were changing, though, and a redirection of a fickle public's musical appetite, coupled with troubles with the internal revenue service, threatened to destroy the success that the star-crossed lovers had acheived. misfortune, however, resulted in one of sonny & cher's biggest success the sonny & cher show. just as their music had captured the heart's of middle america so, too, did their comically adverserial relationship. a comedic formula that had begun with the honeymooners and would continue with moonlighting, the sonny & cher show positioned sonny as the straight-man to cher's biting bon mots.
teamed with producer snuff garrett, cher was finally coming into her own as a solo artist. though criticized for uncanny similarities between her music and pop ingenue dusty springfield's, her reluctance to abandon edgy material worked to her advantage and established her a solid fan base. while her 1960s music, as a soloist or part of a duo, tended to emulate the featherweight material that was the style at the time, cher emerged into the 1970s with material that was decidedly more substantial. this new material suited cher well, as it relied less on powerful vocals (which were necessary to compete with the wall of sound created for her by bono and spector) and more on a commanding persona which would allow her to assume the roles of the songs she performed.
cher's new musical direction coincided with her split from her husband and mentor; as evidenced throughout her solo career, cher had a darker side than sonny was willing to explore in music and the inherent differences between the two eventually drove them apart. and though it was sonny whose knowledge of the industry had gotten them as far as they'd come, there was no denying that there was no sonny & cher without cher. with her larger-than-life personality and over-the-top bob mackie costumes, cher continued to sell out shows in vegas and produce albums as she'd done with sonny. now in control of her own destiny, cher decided to persue a life-long dream acting. suprisingly, though, her mae west attitude and relationship with what was seen, by some, as the svengali-like bono prevented her immediate transition to the silver screen. not one to give up, cher headed to new york, where she landed a supporting role in come back to the five and dime, jimmy dean, jimmy dean. her impressive performance in come back led to a co-starring role in mike nichols' silkwood. while roles in 1985's mask and 1987's the witches of eastwick helped to establish her as a serious actress, it wasn't until moonstruck that she received the oscar for best actress.
as cher's acting career soared, her singing career fell by the wayside and her personal life became a wild ride of equal parts tabloid exploitation and personal revelation. romantically linked with david geffen and gene simmons, cher's next two marriages were to greg allman. the birth of her son elija and a handful of highly-publicized relationships with younger men forced cher into the spotlight more often than her music, making it harder and harder for her to remember what it was she hoped to be getting from her insane career. in 1996, cher was back on the charts with "one by one", a thumping dance track that was particularly well received by her large gay male following. throughout her career, cher could take solace in the presence of a large queer audiencethe drag queens that impersonate her, alone, could fill a small stadiumbut her career, in the 1980s, found her more often on the deck of battleships than on the dancefloors of america's gay discos. with such a large homosexual following, it should have been easy for cher to take daughter chastity's coming out as a lesbian in stride, but such was not the case. in both chastity's family outing and cher's my first time, it is revealed that the singer was initially saddened and worried by her daughter's revelation. it wasn't long, though, before maternal insticts kicked in, returning cher to the role of her daughter's biggest advocate.
in 1998, cher released believe, and album which is quickly becomming her biggest to date. the album's title track has already become the uk's biggest-selling single, ever, and has paved the way for the second cut, "strong enough", to sweep national and international charts. a completely dance-driven album, believe covers amy grant's "the power" and the singer's own 80's hit "we all sleep alone". perhaps the most laudable aspect of this album is the way in which it makes use of the industry's latest technological achievements to support the artist's vocals, rather than to obviate them. with such an indelible spirit and commanding presence, is it any wonder that cher was asked to co-headline vh1's divas live 99 with such musical luminaries as tina turner and whitney houston?