Born May 20 1946, El Centro California.

Also known professionally as Bonnie Jo Mason, Cleo, Cherilyn, Cher Lapiere

It should be noted that Cher's given name as per California birth records is Cheryl - not Cherilyn as is commonly reported. Following a legal name change in 1980, she is now just "Cher".



Prior to meeting Sonny at sixteen, Cher was a drama student with Los Angeles actor / teacher Jeff Corey. Initially platonic, Sonny & Cher's relationship arguably developed Svengali-esque undetones as Sonny intuitively recognized a potentially huge star in the moody and introspective Cher. Both ambitious, their complex attachment was both helped and hindered by their needs, professional and otherwise.

Cher's contributions to the Sonny & Cher phenomenon were raw talent, image, and what ensured her ultimate longeivity: an ability to work, and be worked to the point of exhaustion. Her innate intelligence took a back seat throughout the run of the family business that was Sonny & Cher. Although not legally married until 1969, their early management pushed their marriage as groovy, proclaiming : Elvis has the solo bag, The Beatles have the group bag. And Sonny & Cher have the married couple bag." And for close to a decade it was so, but Sonny & Cher took its toll on Sonny & Cher.

They secretly split as a couple in 1973, but remained a professional duo until divorcing the following year, at the height of their second huge wave of success. Cher's solo ambitions were curtailed as Sonny extracted further contractual and financial penalties from her through 1977. A degree of acrimony permeated their public exchanges until Sonny's death in 1998. Cher's loving eulogy for him was widely criticized as an acting performance, given her longtime public scorn of him. Her response was that she just thought he'sd be around forever...probably the most insightful comment ever made by either Sonny or Cher about themselves.

"Q" journalist Adrian Deevoy observed in 1992: When you think about it in any depth, Cher is somehow connected with virtually everything musical and popular since 1964. She was, after all, present and passing the forceps at the birth of American pop."




But in 1963 Cher inspires in Sonny a renewed drive "to pull off something big - really BIG". To that end he sells himself to Phil Spector as West Coast Promo Man for Spector's Philles label. Employment is not enough for Sonny -he wants to learn the secrets of making surefire fit records, and in Spector there can be no better tutor. Ingratiating himself as gofer, he's soon singing and tambourining on hit Philles records. Certain that Phil will help rocket Cher to stardom, he's thrilled when she's assigned to "make noise" as a backup singer on a new record when a backup singer (Darlene Love) can't make the session. It's no ordinary chore: the lead singer is Ronnie Bennett (later Spector), and the song is "Be My Baby". Cher will be a Ronette for the most of their chart run, and her ringing contralto will contribute to the group's overall sound. (Sonny will later claim Cher isn't on the record, but that he is.)


It's a golden Summer for Sonny & Cher, with most of it spent in and around Gold Star Studios recording Phil's current obsession: a Wall Of Sound Treatment of eleven secular Christmas carols and one original. A mad little project if ever there's one, the album is neverless destined to be One Of The Greatest Rock & Roll Albums ever made. The original tune ( and future classic) "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" cops an alternate treatment ("Johnny...etc") on which Cher's vocals are prominent on the opening counterpoint build. (Revisiting her roots decades later, Cher will record "Christmas" with Rosie O'Donnell and feature Darlene Love on her Heart Of Stone Tour.)


Sonny scores more placements for his songs. Heartthrob-in-waiting Jimmy Griffin (who'll go on to co-found Bread) covers "Little Miss Cool", and two Orange County boys known as The Righteous Brothers who model their style on Don & Dewey pick up "Koko Joe". Always the moonlighter - and possibly something less - he scores a soft hit when his B-side collaboration with Jack Nitzsche for Jackie Deshannon ("Needles And Pins") is flipped by DJs. Although Jack will later claim he and Jackie actually wrote the song (and Sonny's co-authorship reflects merely an owed favor) Sonny will remember otherwise. But it is the end of their partnership.


Jackie Deshannon Liberty 55563 Needles And Pins (SB/JN) B-side of "Did He Call Today Mama"
Phil Spector & Artists Philles PHLP 4005 A Christmas Gift For You vocals and percussiom
Righteous Brothers Moonglow 1024 Koko Joe 45 only has overdubbed "live" audience
Jimmy Griffin Reprise 20221 "Little Miss Cool" (SC)  


1964 brings Cher a solo shot in the studio with Phil Spector, but not for his flagship label. Nor is it a Wall of Sound production - Cher will be back for that a decade later, and under vastly different circumstances. Their effort is a Beatles novelty, and despite being sped up Cher's voice sounds boyish to '64-ers. Speculation runs that The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name is being directed at the ugliest Beatle with "Ringo I Love You", as by Bonnie Jo Mason. Speculation also runs that it's a tax dodge - despite the considerate effort expended to (successfully) recreate the overall ambience of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You". A failure upon release, three decades later competing Beatles collectors, Cher fans and Spectorphiles will pay the equivalent of the studio recording costs for a copy.

Sonny and Cher are now performing as Caesar and Cleo, and backing singers live and in the studio, Sonny's old compadre Harold Battiste Jr. has gone into partnership with Sam Cooke in a small recording studio (The Soul Station) catering to local East L.A. soul and R&B talent. And before you can say "Hail!", Caesar and Cleo are there with Harold manning the deck. Since apples don't all far from the tree, the tune is Don & Dewey's "The Letter". Though again unsuccessful, it's a fine record which ups the original tempo to approximate Don & Dewey's best-known hit "I'm Leaving It All Up To You". Vault Records will re-release it as a Sonny & Cher record a year later worldwide, and although sounding dated it cracks some palylists. But for now Caesar and Cleo won't rise above D.J. bowling alley and skate rink circuit. replete with "house bands" that can't read music even if they had the charts.

Frank Sinatra's Reprise records has been sold to Warner Brothers, and under Mo Ostin's captaincy Rat Pack artists are out and the young generation is in. Jimmy Bowen's also there to turn things around with charting hits, and produces three more Caesar & Cleo sides arranged by Jack Nitzsche. Polished but dated, the tracks presage the Sonny & Cher 70s TV formula of brassed-up R&B and Rock classics. Cher / Cleo's confident blast on "Love Is Strange" gives Steve Douglas' sax solo a run for its money. The tracks will remain in the can for months, and Sonny wil later dismiss them as demos and refuse usage of the Sonny & Cher moniker.




Bonnie Jo Mason Annette 1000 Ringo I Love You (Spector/Case/Poncia/Andreoli) / Beatle Blues (inst PS) Both Prod. Phil Spector
Caesar & Cleo Vault 909 The Letter / String Fever (inst .SC) Both Prod. Harold Battiste Jr credited Sonny
Caesar & Cleo Reprise / April 1964 Love Is Strange / Let The Good Times Roll / Do You Wanna Dance Prod. Jimmy Bowen / Arr. Jack Nietzsche



Only in Hollywood could someone say "Let's all get together and make a hit record!" and it almost comes to pass. It's said that Jack Nitzsche organizes a massive unpaid session as a charity effort to benefit a pair of ballsy characters named Charles Greene and Brian Stone, for no known reason. The crew of performers includes Brian Wilson, Jackie Deshannon, Darlene Love, Albert Stone and Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew of elite studio musicians. Darlene Love's sister Edna Wright takes lead vocals, Sonny & Cher are in the massed chorus and on disc they're all known as Hale & The Hushabyes. As usual Cher's voice cuts through the assemblage, and as usual she's moved far behind the others. The song ("Yes Sir That's My Baby") is an old chestnut re-roasted ala Phil Spector's outrageous revamping of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" with Darlene a few years earlier. Greene & Stone receive producer credit and the disc is initially released on Apogee, and soon after on Reprise, where Jack's working steadily.


And in true Hollywood fasion, Greene and Stone swear they're huge Caesar & Cleo fans, and are just the guys to propel them to stardom. Alliances holy and otherwise are set in legalese if not in stone, and the boys begin their energetic hustle of Sonny & Cher. The complex deal involves management, a record company (York-Pala) and potentially lucrative publishing. The pressing need is for a hit record, and Sonny concocts a wistful, folky vehicle for Cher called "Baby Don't Go". The "We'll Sing In The Sunshine" soundalike is recorded at Soul Station and RCA. Legend will have it that it's to be a Cher solo, and that Sonny & Cher just miraculously happened because Cher's too terrified to do it alone: The fact that the chorus is a refute response to the verses indicates it's nothing but a duet. Less rock-tough than the Caesar & Cleo sound and with Harold Battiste Jr's melodica overdub replacing strings and horns, Sonny & Cher's "Baby Don't Go" scores a Reprise release on the same day as two of their April Caesar & Cleo cuts are released on 45. (It's generally believed to be coincidental, but Greene & Stone brought "Baby Don't Go" to Reprise a week before "Love Is Strange" was scheduled for release. Hoping to score a much more lucrative long-term deal on Sonny & Cher, Reprise one-up them and sign neither Caesar & Cleo nor Sonny & Cher to anything beyond the five sides they already have, and rush-release "Baby Don't Go".)



Bono, Greene & Stone also pick up on Phil Spector's B-side policy: "Baby Don't Go" is paired with a quickly knocked out instrumental jam, and like Spector's flips designed not only to not detract from the A-side or chew up expensive studio time, but to enrich the writers and publishers to to the same degree that a hit A-side does. In the case of this triumvirate, they'll be colloquially known as Quetzal Songs. While a quetzal is a sacred South American bird, it's also Guatamalan slang for "chump change". Greene & Stone will pick up mucho quetzals as the "writers" of flipsides. (The Quetzal Songs are actually the unpaid and uncredited work of Harold Battiste Jr - "just make up a little something for the "B".)

With relentless promotion, "Baby Don't Go" becomes a popular soft-hit in Los Angeles, and regionally in the South. It's enough to up Sonny & Cher's performance price, and they begin touring with package shows up and down California. They also get on "Shindig", and expose their record to millions nationally and internationally. "Needles And Pins" is picked up by U.K. beat stars The Searchers, and scorches the international charts.

While Sonny's well aware the Spectorian Girl Group sound is on the wane, he produces Cher's "Dream Baby" (as by Cherilyn), and York-Pala get a one-off release with it on Imperial records. A year too late in buyer appeal, it's nevertheless a stunning homage to his boss: as a Wall Of sound knockoff it's one of the very best. Sonny has learnt, and he has learnt well.



Hale & The Hushabyes (May '64)
Apogee 104 Yes Sir That's My Baby / 900 Quetzals ((inst.BGS) Arr & Prod: Jack Nietzsche
Hale & The Hushabyes (Aug '64) Reprise 0299 Yes Sir That's My Baby / Jack's Theme (inst. JN)  
as The Date With Soul (1967) York 408 Yes Sir That's My Baby / Bee Side Soul (inst. G&S)  
Caesar & Cleo (Sep '64) Reprise 0308 Love Is Strange / Do You Want to Dance Arr Jack Nietzsche, Prod Jimmy Bowen
Sonny & Cher Reprise 0309 Baby Don't Go (SB) / Walkin The Quetzal (inst. BGS) Arr Prod Sonny Bono (actually Arr Harold Battiste Jr
Cherilyn (Oct '64) Imperial 66081 Dream Baby (SB) / Stan Quetzal (inst BGS, by "Cherilyn's Group") A-side Arr Gene Page Prod SB
Sonny's other 1964 productions and details of subsequent Reprise reissues can be found HERE


Back in Spectorland at year's end, Uncle Phil's vision is now focused on inventing a new genre: soft soul. The synthesis of gospel, symphony, R & B, rock and roll and yes...jazz has never been formulated but it's on its way with "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". A less-than-brilliant song is being transformed into an opus, and with enough musicality to at once sound heartfelt and profound to all ears. As presented by Phil Spector, the song will find its place as one of the most popular of the century. Spector recruits The Righteous Brothers for vocals so righteous that the record will continue to re-chart with a success that few of the many cover versions can approach. And Sonny & Cher are there with back-up vocals, and out-of-time tambourine slaps from Sonny. (Cher is the only girl on the sessions.)

Sonny however soon finds he's finished with Phil Spector. Professional rivalry is stated as a cause by some, not good value for money is claimed by Phil. And Sonny blames his Philles demise on his openness and honesty with regards to professional opinions expressed to his employer. Whatever...perhaps primordial intervention causes the chick to be pushed from the nest and not meet the more usual fate of Hollywood's young. But then again Sonny isn't so young...