In celebration of the March 11th birthday of award-winning singer/songwriter Cheryl Lynn, we revisit a 1979 interview conducted by David Nathan in the glow of Cheryl’s success with her now-classic first hit, “Got To Be Real” 

Cheryl’s Trip Down The Yellow Brick Road

By David Nathan

January 1979 

“I’m just excited about the whole thing!” bubbles Ms. Cheryl Lynn and she has every reason for feeling that way. Her debut Columbia album and the single smash, “Got To Be Real” have catapulted her into the best sellers for 1978 and won her accolades and reviews from critics who are raving about her as the year’s “best new discovery”.  Cheryl’s story reads a little like a fairy-tale and her own personal yellow brick road began after an appearance on U.S. television on the famous Gong Show in which some of the best and worst performers/idiots attempt to entertain a panel of three who then passes judgement. It goes without saying that Cheryl scored 30 out of 30 and the next day, phones were ringing and record companies, producers and managers wanted to know who was this lady who had literally blown everyone away with her rendition of  [Billy Preston’s]”You Are So Beautiful.”

Cheryl recalls that she had cherished ambitions in the musical field from early childhood but her experiences had been restricted to singing in church in her native Los Angeles.  “When I got ready to leave school, I wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to make music my profession. I learned basically from my mother — I didn’t have any musical classes per se. I’d been playing piano by ear since I was a kid and I always loved music of all kinds — but as a career, I really didn’t know.  Then a girl friend of mine called me about an audition for the national touring company of The Wiz in Los Angeles. She asked me if I could handle it — and I said, yeah, sure — but I was really nervous about doing the audition.”

Cheryl need not have worried because she was selected to work in the musical and worked her way from singing in the pit into being understudy for the Wicked Witch of the West, a role which eventually played whilst the company was in Chicago. “I stayed with The Wiz from June ’76 through to February ’77 and in fact, I did the Gong Show at the same time I started in the musical. That was because a friend of mine, Delbert Langston  had really arranged it for me. I’ll never forget — he told me if I didn’t win, he’d give up even trying to help me.  You see, I really never used to feel confident about my singing and I figured only glamour girls really made it! I guess Delbert just psyched me up but I was still shocked at all the attention I got after I won!”

Cheryl was inundated with offers from record companies, producers and the like and she took time out to meet everyone. One of the gentlemen she met was Bob Johnston, one of the CBS’ staff producers (who also happened to produce some of Aretha Franklin’s first CBS albums) and she says, “the vibes were right. I dug his whole approach straight away.”  Through Bob she met manager Eric Kronfield and he then took a copy of the tape of the famous Gong Show segment to interested record companies. CBS immediately saw Cheryl’s potential and Cheryl says that company president Bruce Lundvall “was one of the main reasons I went for them — I liked his whole attitude to me, the way we were able to communicate.”

In December 1976, Cheryl signed with the company and after selecting material as executive producer, Bob Johnston together with Cheryl picked David and Marty Paich to actually produce the sessions, which included some of Cheryl’s own material, including one song which co-wrote with Raydio’s Ray Parker Jr.  She says of the album: “I didn’t know what would happen — it was a whole new experience for me. But I gave my best and I had some great people to work with, which helped considerably.”

The success of “Got To Be Real” came as something of a shock. “The first time I saw it on the charts, I was shocked. I mean I couldn’t believe it! Especially, being a new artist with my first record out.”  Needless to say, the last few months have provided Cheryl, a highly personable and warm young lady, with a chance to overcome her initial shock as she’s watched her album gaining momentum.  “My life hasn’t changed that much — I mean I’m still the same Cheryl! But I’ve had the chance to meet a whole lot of new people and that’s been fabulous.” Her plans for the future include “performing as soon as we can get the right musicians together; doing a lot more songwriting; and getting back to maybe doing some Broadway, theatre, whatever, because I really enjoyed the experience of combining music with acting when I did The Wiz.”  Certainly Cheryl’s story just goes to show that there is no conventional way to becoming a star and there’s every indication that her own yellow brick road will end in a blaze of gold.