Perhaps best-known as one of The Manhattan Transfer, Cheryl has also had quite a successful solo career. Along with sharing the 10 Grammys the Transfer has won, Cheryl shared one with Bobby McFerrin for arranging “Another Night in Tunisia” for the album Vocalese, and received one of her own as the composer/writer of “Sassy.” She has released several discs, including her debut, Something Cool, a tribute to Anita O’Day, Let Me Off Uptown, and a salute to Cole Porter, Let’s Misbehave.
Just a few days away from her 62nd birthday (January 17th), Cheryl took an hour out to talk with me about her recent activities. She’s been doing a lot of teaching, and it has taken her on a new journey. She has become a producer!
When she’s in town between road trips with the Transfer, she’ll put up a notice on FaceBook that she will be offering a 2-day workshop, 6 hours each day, and people of all kinds from all over respond. Sometimes they’re established voice-over pros who want to be singers. Others are singers of various ages and experience who have decided they want to sing for a living. One such student was an ambitious teenager, who came all the way from Phoenix, Arizona to take the workshop. His name was Ira Hill.
Cheryl Bentyne and Ira Hill (photo courtesy of Cheryl Bentyne)
After the workshop was over and Ira returned to Phoenix, he posted a recording he’d made of himself. Cheryl heard it and didn’t think it did him justice. So she called him and offered him a chance to come out and record a tune or two in a real studio. She put a band together, chose a couple of songs, and Ira came out and recorded. The result was so satisfying that Ira’s father suggested they do a whole album.
That disc has just been released. It’s called Tomorrow, and features a stellar line-up of musicians, including John Proulx on piano, bassist Kevin Axt, Dave Tull on drums, Alex Acuna on percussion, Doug Webb on saxophone, guitarist Ramon Stagnaro, and Craig Fundyga on vibes. Cheryl also sits in on three tunes. Information about the disc and samples of the tracks are available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/irahill12. Ira, Cheryl and members of the band will be performing at the CD release party on February 24th at the E Spot Lounge at 4349 Tujunga Avenue in Studio City. (As the time draws nearer, I’ll be posting a blog about Ira. So, watch this space!)
One of the things that distinguished Ira from many of the other workshop attendees was that he was well acquainted with many of the classic vocalists, and had already worked on techniques, such as scat singing. Part of the workshop process is listening to other vocalists to compare and contrast, and to listen to phrasing. Cheryl says she is often surprised at how few of these singers are known to her students. In a listening session that includes Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, and Ella Fitzgerald, they’ll only know Diana Krall!
Cheryl grew up in Mt. Vernon, Washington, teaching herself how to sing by listening to records. Her parents were both musical—her mother was a singer, and her father was a clarinetist, known as the Benny Goodman of the Northwest! (Interestingly, Cheryl is often given the clarinet part to sing when a Manhattan Transfer vocalese arrangement calls for it.) Cheryl started out with piano lessons, working hard, going through adjudications, but when her mother discovered her daughter could sing, she suggested she join her father’s Dixieland band. After graduating from high school, she moved to Seattle, got a teacher, and eventually began singing with a group known as The New Deal Rhythm Band. Their success led a talent agent to convince Cheryl to move to L.A. and to go solo.
She relocated in 1977, and two years later was scouted as a replacement for Laurel Masse in the Manhattan Transfer. She auditioned for the group, and the rest, as they say, is history.
She continues to perform with the Transfer, and the group is back in full swing with a new member, Trist Curless, who joined after the passing of the group’s founder, Tim Hauser. They recently returned from a European and Eastern U.S. tour. It took some time for the group and the audience to work through the sorrow of such a loss, but the joy of the music has returned. They still pay homage to Tim at every concert, but it is now in celebration of his life and legacy, rather than in mourning his loss.
A few years ago, Cheryl underwent some serious health issues, but emerged renewed and recharged. In fact, it was while she was undergoing treatment that she decided to start the vocal workshops. She didn’t feel too bad to work, but couldn’t leave town, so she put together a workshop and was delighted with the experience. Her students, too, have shown their appreciation by organizing a FaceBook page for Cheryl Bentyne and the Bentyneers.
Next, on the horizon, is a solo project, a recording of music by Stephen Sondheim. And, of course, her birthday. Many happy returns, Cheryl Bentyne!