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Ava Cherry

Ava Cherry
Ava Cherry 2016.jpg
Cherry at Metro Chicago, 2016
Born1953 (age 67–68)
Other namesBlack Barbarella[1]
OccupationSinger, model
Years active1972–present
Musical career
OriginNew York City, New York, U.S.
GenresR&B, disco, post-disco, dance-pop, new wave
LabelsRSO, Capitol
Associated actsDavid Bowie, Luther Vandross
Ava Cherry signature.png

Ava Cherry (born 1953) is an American singer and model best known for her relationship and collaboration with David Bowie between 1972 and 1975. The two met in New York City when she was a nightclub waitress and Bowie was touring for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars; afterwards, they began a period of personal and artistic collaboration that heavily influenced the Young Americans "blue-eyed soul" era. Intending to sing with him on a tour of Japan in the early 1970s, the tour's cancellation almost ended their relationship, but they reunited and continued working together.

After the collapse of their relationship in 1975 from Bowie's cocaine addiction and financial issues, Cherry continued working with R&B singer and producer Luther Vandross, who she had met through him. Cherry would embark on a solo career throughout the next decades while continuing to work with Vandross, as well as other singers such as Chaka Khan.

Early life

Cherry was born in 1953[2] to an African-American family in Woodlawn, a working-class neighbourhood on the south side of Chicago. Her father was a postal worker and trumpet player who worked long hours, "from four o'clock in the morning [until] nine o'clock at night", and she rarely saw him; her mother worked in the administration department for Playboy Enterprises.[3] Both parents' careers left deep imprints on her; she was raised to appreciate music by her father and lived for a period in the Playboy Mansion as a bunny.[3][4] Cherry was introduced to Hugh Hefner by her friends, and was underage at the time she lived in the mansion.[5] She attended Academy of Our Lady High School and graduated in the early 1970s.[6][note 1] As a teenager, she sang in a girl group influenced by The Supremes and was a regular attendee at the Regal Theater, one of Chicago's most important black music venues.[7]

Cherry first aspired to be a model after graduating high school, putting together a book of headshots and finding work with several agencies. She disliked her unusual last name, but was told by modelling agencies it was an asset to her career. Cherry later moved to New York for her career, but it failed to take off, and she found work as a cocktail waitress to pay her bills.[6]

Relationship with David Bowie

Cherry first heard about David Bowie due to the influence of her agent, who was an early fan and gave her a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. She was captivated by the record, which she played "about a hundred times", and by Bowie's aesthetic sensibility.[8] At the time, Cherry was a waitress at the Genesis nightclub and a close friend of Stevie Wonder's then-girlfriend,[9] who knew Bowie; when she invited Wonder to host an afterparty at Genesis, Bowie attended. When the two first met, he was attracted by her close-cropped blonde hair and asked if she was a singer, inviting her on the spot to sing backup on a planned tour of Japan.[3][6]

Their relationship quickly turned personal as well as professional. Shortly after they began dating, Cherry met Bowie's then-wife Angela Barnett and was taken aback to learn he was married until Bowie clarified they were in an open marriage.[8] Cherry and Barnett would at first strike up a friendship of their own,[10] but ultimately had a troubled relationship marked by mutual jealousy.[11] In anticipation of the Japan tour, Cherry quit her job and sold her apartment, only for the tour to be cancelled. Not to be dissuaded, she went to Europe to search for him.[8]

Cherry and Bowie, mid-1970s

Travelling Europe, Cherry attracted the attention of an array of modelling agencies. Her visual aesthetic was one of her most striking and defining characteristics, as a black woman with short dyed hair and an unusual height – she was several inches taller than Bowie,[10] who was approximately 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm).[12] Designers treated her as "a goddess from outer space" as she made the rounds through the major fashion capitals of Paris, London, and Milan.[6] After a year, Cherry found Bowie working on the album Pin Ups near Paris. They spent a week in the Château d'Hérouville to record the album, which she described as "one of the most beautiful times in my life", and lived together in Paris for eight months.[3][8]

Bowie hoped to steer Cherry's burgeoning career, saying she could be the "next Josephine Baker" and hoping to sign her to MainMan, run by his then-manager Tony Defries.[10] He founded a soul-influenced trio called The Astronettes, composed of Cherry, long-time collaborator Warren Peace, and Jason Guess, and recorded and produced their tracks in London through late 1973 and early 1974. The Astronettes project was quickly shelved and the songs involved not released until the 1990s; however, Bowie kept the trio as his backing singers for the Diamond Dogs era.[13] The work of the Astronettes received mixed reviews, with some describing it as "sketchwork" only valuable as a curiosity, while others admired it for a "new wave before the term existed" sensibility.[13][14]

Cherry's major element of influence was in Young Americans, Bowie's ninth studio album. The heavily soul-influenced album drew on Bowie's interest in black music, and the backing trio of Cherry, Robin Clark (wife of guitarist Carlos Alomar), and a then-unknown Luther Vandross had a significant impact on the album's shape. Cherry introduced him to the famous Apollo Theater, where he poached Alomar and Vandross from the house band; the Bowie-Alomar collaboration would go on to write some of the album's most successful songs, while Vandross would break out as a celebrity in his own right.[8][9] She also introduced him to the Sigma Sound Studios, synonymous with Philadelphia soul, where the album was recorded.[15] Cherry was later quoted as saying that it was her influence on and encouragement of Bowie that inspired him to perform black music in the first place.[3] She was a standout member of the Young Americans backing band, attracting the approval of famed rock critic Lester Bangs in Creem.[16] Bowie was reportedly fascinated with black music and black women throughout this era, partly from Cherry's influence.[17]

The precise nature of Bowie and Cherry's relationship throughout this era is disputed; Tony Visconti recalled them as lacking any apparent romantic bond, and Bowie as mostly interested in having a managerial role over her career. Barnett was unfamiliar with the extent of their relationship and reportedly almost jumped out of a window when she learned how close they were.[18] The personal difficulty between Cherry and Barnett required the former to keep a low profile in the latter's presence, even as Cherry and Bowie carried on a relationship in New York.[11] Their relationship was also marked by double standards, as while Bowie had several other partners, Cherry was expected to remain faithful.[17]

The early to mid-1970s was a chaotic period in Bowie's career, marked by sudden fame and drug abuse, which took a toll on their relationship. When meeting Cherry's parents, he shocked them by taking out a vial of cocaine at the dinner table.[19] Bowie's drug-based decline came as a particular shock to Cherry, as he did very few drugs when they first met.[20] The relationship was serious, with Bowie reportedly considering divorcing Barnett to marry her,[19] but handicapped by Bowie's own personal and financial issues. He grew increasingly paranoid, placing a strain on their relationship.[21] Bowie and Defries had significant financial conflicts throughout the period, which culminated in the discovery that the singer had millions of dollars less than he believed; the stress of the financial shock caused him to spontaneously cut ties with multiple people, including Cherry, and drop her from the upcoming Isolar Tour.[3][22] He would later write the songs "Golden Years" and "Stay" from Station to Station about her.[8]


The Astronettes and GO

Bowie arranged Cherry and two other collaborators into a backing group called The Astronettes and recorded an album with them; however, the album would not be released until 1995 as People From Bad Homes. The album was released without the approval of either Cherry or Bowie, and Cherry was particularly upset that the unfinished demo tracks were released to the public.[5] People From Bad Homes was primarily regarded as a curiosity with little value except to chronicle the history of later Bowie songs, such as "Scream Like a Baby", a reworking of Cherry's "I Am a Laser".[13] However, some more positive apprasial recognized the album for its proto-new wave tendencies.[14] In 2008, further Astronettes recordings were released as The Astronettes Sessions.[23]

After the demise of her relationship, Cherry first joined progressive jazz supergroup GO prior to her solo career.[24] GO was a collaboration with Steve Winwood,[6] Michael Shrieve, and Stomu Yamashta.[25]

Solo career

After GO, Cherry returned to Chicago to embark on a solo career. Her first solo album was Ripe!!!, released by RSO Records in 1980[note 2] and produced by Curtis Mayfield.[28] Ripe!!! was originally intended to be produced by Gil Askey for Curtom Records, but he was uncomfortable with her work with Bowie.[9] The album made a minor impact on the Billboard Black Albums Chart,[14] but was held back by being a disco album released at the height of the anti-disco backlash.[28] Two singles were released, "Love Is Good News"[29] and "I Just Can't Shake This Feeling".[30] The minor success of the album combined with Cherry's history was enough for her to sign a deal with Capitol Records shortly after.[14]

Cherry's sophomore album Streetcar Named Desire was released by Capitol Records in 1982. It was produced by Bob Esty, who also produced albums for Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, and Cher.[7] Streetcar Named Desire was commercially unsuccessful[31] but nonetheless spawned two singles, "Streetcar Named Desire"[32] and "Love To Be Touched".[33] Its lack of success was ascribed in part to racial stereotypes in the music industry; pop radio stations reportedly stopped playing the album after discovering Cherry was a black artist making 'white' music.[34] Contemporary critical reception was positive, describing the album as "electric, heart-pumping funk" and drawing connections to Grace Jones and Debbie Harry.[35][36]

Picture Me, Cherry's third studio album, was released in 1987. It was her most successful solo attempt, producing two Top 40 dance hit singles, but fell below label expectations.[6][14] The continued disco influence of the album was labelled as a factor in Cherry's failure to break into mainstream pop music.[31] The album was, however, successful enough for Cherry to be heralded as one of a number of women changing the face of contemporary pop music.[37] Picture Me received mixed reviews, being described as "slick and sexy synth pop", but also as a lean album of overplayed "skimpy grooves".[38][39]

Cherry would not release another solo record until the EP Spend the Night in 1997, which was most known for its cover of "Forget Me Nots" by Patrice Rushen.[9] Spend the Night was released by J-Bird Records,[28] one of the first record labels to distribute primarily via the Internet.[40] After Spend the Night, Cherry self-distributed a number of singles in the early 2010s.[9][31] In 2019 she signed to the independent label Wake Up! Music,[41] through which she released a cover of Bowie's "Let's Dance"[8] and the nu-disco single "Testify Love".[42]

Backup singer

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Cherry also worked as a backup singer to influential R&B musician Luther Vandross.[43] She and Vandross had met many years earlier as backup singers to Bowie, and they built a close relationship, with Cherry referring to him as like a brother to her.[7] As Vandross' friend and backup, she played a unique role in his stage shows; her glamour-fuelled aesthetic sensibility frequently outshone his, with stage shows built around her and other backup singers rather than the nominal main attraction. The dresses Cherry wore on stage frequently cost more than his own outfits.[44] Vandross' focus on Cherry and Lisa Fischer as a core part of his stage show caused problems for other backup singers, who were required to sink into the background and not outshine them, and treated harshly if they were thought to catch too much attention.[45] Cherry's place in Vandross' stage show has been analyzed for its significance and the implications for Vandross, a flamboyant figure with extensive speculation about his private life and sexual orientation.[44]

Cherry has also sung backup for Chaka Khan[6] and Robert Palmer.[46] In 2013 she appeared in 20 Feet from Stardom, a documentary about backup singers.[46]


Albums and EPs

  • Ripe!!! (1980, RSO Records)
  • Streetcar Named Desire (1982, Capitol Records)
  • Picture Me (1987, Capitol Records)
  • People From Bad Homes (1995) as Ava Cherry & The Astronettes[note 3]
  • Spend the Night (1997, J-Bird Records)
  • The Astronettes Sessions as The Astronettes (2008, Black Barbarella Records)[23]


  1. ^ Cherry's precise graduation date is unclear. She quotes graduating in 1973 in the cited article, which is impossible by the timeline of other events.
  2. ^ Specifically 4 September 1980,[26] though it was originally planned for January.[27]
  3. ^ Released by Griffin Music in the United States and Golden Years in the United Kingdom.[47][48]


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  11. ^ a b Gillman, Peter; Gillman, Leni (1987). Alias David Bowie (2nd ed.). London: Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 461–462. ISBN 9780450413469.
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  16. ^ Bangs, Lester (January 1975). "Johnny Ray's Better Whirlpool". CREEM. Vol. 6 no. 8.
  17. ^ a b Gillman, Peter; Gillman, Leni (1987). Alias David Bowie (2nd ed.). London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 479. ISBN 9780450413469.
  18. ^ Buckley, David (2012). Strange Fascination: David Bowie, the Definitive Story (5th ed.). London: Virgin Books. p. 209. ISBN 9781448132478.
  19. ^ a b Buckley, David (2012). Strange Fascination: David Bowie, the Definitive Story (5th ed.). London: Virgin Books. pp. 217–218. ISBN 9781448132478.
  20. ^ Gillman, Peter; Gillman, Leni (1987). Alias David Bowie (2nd ed.). London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 473. ISBN 9780450413469.
  21. ^ Gillman, Peter; Gillman, Leni (1987). Alias David Bowie (2nd ed.). London: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 494. ISBN 9780450413469.
  22. ^ Buckley, David (2012). Strange Fascination: David Bowie, the Definitive Story (5th ed.). London: Virgin Books. p. 270. ISBN 9781448132478.
  23. ^ a b Cherry, Ava (2008). The Astronettes Sessions (Liner notes). David Bowie, Geoff MacCormick, Jason Guess. Chicago: Black Barbarella Records. BBarbcd001.
  24. ^ Staff writer (22 September 1977). "Things To Do: Music". Arizona Daily Star. p. 26.
  25. ^ Carr, Tim (15 October 1977). "Yamashta brings 'Go Too' to St. Paul". Star Tribune. p. 33.
  26. ^ Cherry, Ava (1980). Ripe!!! (Liner notes). Curtis Mayfield. Chicago: RSO Records. RS-1-3072.
  27. ^ Lake, Lenora (18 January 1980). "Linda Ronstadt On New Album". p. 57.
  28. ^ a b c "Ava Cherry". Disco Museum. Archived from the original on 15 January 2008. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  29. ^ Cherry, Ava (1980). Love Is Good News (Liner notes). Curtis Mayfield, Gil Askey. Chicago: RSO Records. RSO 1017.
  30. ^ Cherry, Ava (1980). I Just Can't Shake This Feeling (Liner notes). Bobby Eli. Chicago: RSO Records. RS 1027.
  31. ^ a b c Radic, Randy (1 January 2020). "The Resurgence of Ava Cherry: David Bowie's Flame Shines". Rawckus Magazine. Archived from the original on 5 September 2020. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  32. ^ Cherry, Ava (1982). Streetcar Named Desire (Liner notes). Bob Esty, Ben Liebrand. Chicago: Capitol Records. B-5085.
  33. ^ Cherry, Ava (1982). Love To Be Touched (Liner notes). Bob Esty. Chicago: Capitol Records. CL 243.
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  35. ^ Purnell, Florestine (19 May 1982). "Ava Cherry writes her own 'Streetcar' ticket". The Kansas City Star. p. 16B.
  36. ^ Wyatt, Hugh (29 May 1982). "Ava Cherry has style". Austin American-Statesman. p. 108.
  37. ^ Rizzo, Frank (27 August 1987). "Women invade music charts". Dayton Daily News. p. 13.
  38. ^ Brogan, Daniel (21 August 1987). "New albums". Chicago Tribune. p. 76.
  39. ^ Valorie, Janna (12 September 1987). "Ava Cherry: Picture Me (Capitol)". The Morning Call. p. 71.
  40. ^ Catlin, Roger (5 December 1996). "J-Bird Records Signs Bands, Markets and Sells CDs Via the Internet". The Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on 19 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  41. ^ "Ava Cherry". Wake Up! Music Group. Archived from the original on 5 September 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  42. ^ Marino, Layla (26 April 2020). "New Artist Profile: Ava Cherry Resurrects Disco House With 'Testify Love'". Your EDM. Archived from the original on 31 October 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  43. ^ Flanagan, Sylvia P. (28 June 1993). "Luther Vandross' Revealing Interview About His Expanding Entertainment Career". Jet. Vol. 84 no. 9. p. 35.
  44. ^ a b Seymour, Craig A. (2005). "Searching" for Luther Vandross: The Politics and Performance of Studying an African-American Icon (PDF) (PhD). The University of Maryland. p. 100. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  45. ^ Uwumarogie, Victoria (4 January 2021). "Dawn Robinson Says Luther Vandross Gave En Vogue Hell When They Toured Together: "He Called The Police On Us"". MadameNoire. Archived from the original on 26 January 2021. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  46. ^ a b Wikane, Christian John (17 June 2013). "The Women of '20 Feet from Stardom': Lisa Fischer". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 10 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  47. ^ Ava Cherry & The Astronettes (1995). People From Bad Homes (Liner notes). David Bowie. Toronto: Griffin Music. GCD-424-2.
  48. ^ Ava Cherry & The Astronettes (1995). People From Bad Homes (Liner notes). David Bowie. London: Golden Years. GY 005.

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