When Cheryl Bentyne joined The Manhattan Transfer in 1979, everything became “just right.” It has been with her that the group has attained its status as the most successful harmony group of all time – each part coming together with an unmistakable chemistry that not only nurtures the group as a whole, but lets the individual contributions of each partner come through. Cheryl’s are obvious: From her memorable solo in “Meet Benny Bailey” to her portrayal of Lucy in the “Blee Blop Blues” video to her exquisite voicing of Django Reinhardt’s guitar solo on “Clouds” (adapted from Nuages) on SWING, her talents are much of what is The Manhattan Transfer.
Born on January 17, 1954, Cheryl was raised in a musical family. Along with her parents, Cheryl and her three brothers lived in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Her father was a swing musician, known as “The Benny Goodman of the Northwest.” Her mother was a singer, so it was only natural that Cheryl would be interested in music. Her interests included theatre, classical piano – which she studied for seven years – and of course, singing. She began singing at age 13. “My mother, who heard me sing in a school play, said, ‘My God! You can sing! Why don’t you go sing with your Dad?” So on Friday and Saturday nights, I’d be singing tunes like “Hello Dolly” and “Am I Blue?” to Dixie and swing fans,” Cheryl remembers. Singing these tunes with her father’s band at the Elks Club gave her a lot of great experience. When asked about her musical influences, Cheryl says: “My father – a great swing musician, clarinet especially!” Cheryl is often given the clarinet parts in the vocalese tunes the group has done – her voice is perfectly suited to be a clarinet. She adds, “My mother was an encouraging force and got me singing in my Dad’s band.” She also lists Judy Garland, “for being the greatest of them all.”
Upon graduation from high school, Cheryl moved to nearby Seattle and joined “The New Deal Rhythm Band.” She was a part of the group for four years, delighting audiences wherever she went. They combined comedy and improvisation with theatrical swing numbers. They relied on campy performance and inventive costumes, which was very similar to the early days of The Manhattan Transfer. They were a Seattle sensation and toured along the West Coast. They were performing at a private party on a ferry when Cheryl caught the attention of a promoter and talent agent who were attending the party. They convinced her that her talent and vocal ability could support a solo career for herself. Interested in pursuing a solo career, Cheryl made the move to Hollywood in 1977, and began assembling material for her own show. Before long, she was getting regular bookings. “I did two years of hoot nights at places like The Troubadour. I was having so much fun I didn’t realize I was paying dues,” she recalls.
In June of 1979, she was coming out of The Baked Potato, a small jazz club in LA, when her manager asked her if she would like to audition for a spot in The Manhattan Transfer. This was the chance she had been waiting for in her career. She remembers being ecstatic and says that her scream of excitement could be heard for blocks! “It was the perfect band for me. I had been working with The New Deal Rhythm Band, which did a lot of the Transfer’s tunes, so I knew I’d fit right in,” she says. The next day she phoned the Transfer’s office and arranged the audition. She was asked to prepare “Candy,” and “You Can Depend On Me,” and she learned “Four Brothers” just in case. She arrived at Janis’ to meet the group and audition the next afternoon. “Janis offered me a cup of herb tea to help calm my nerves and the four of us spent a few moments getting to know each other,” she says. Cheryl sang both songs she had been asked to prepare with the group, and then sight-read “Snooty Little Cutie.” She left feeling great, confident of her singing and extremely impressed with Janis, Tim and Alan, as well as with the direction that they wanted The Manhattan Transfer to take. So much was riding on this decision: Janis, Tim, and Alan needed a soprano who was gifted and agile enough to immediately blend into the unique four-part harmony sound they had achieved. Plus, they needed a singer who was a performer – someone to look good, have stage presence, to entertain as well as sing great. Add to that they needed someone they could enjoy being with for extended tours and hours in the studio – it was a big decision. Cheryl fit the bill, and Janis, Tim, and Alan chose her to become their new partner. She was invited back to Janis’ a few days later. Janis opened the door with a glass of champagne in hand and “after lots of hugs and a few tears,” Cheryl recalls, they toasted the new partnership.
Cheryl’s energy and style turned out to be the perfect compliment to the group’s already dynamic image. Her debut album with the group was Extensions, which was a landmark album for the group. Their success has continued to grow, and so has Cheryl’s talent. She has expanded her talent beyond singing to include composing and vocal arranging. She won a Grammy Award in 1985 with Bobby McFerrin for their vocal arrangement of “Another Night In Tunisia,” from Vocalese. She also co-wrote the lyrics to “Sassy”, from Offbeat of Avenues. She has also added her vocal talent to other artist’s recordings. She appeared on bassist Rob Wasserman’s highly acclaimed Duets album in 1989. Her voice can also be heard on the soundtrack to 1991’s “Mortal Thoughts” but you must watch the movie to hear her, as the soundtrack was never released. Cheryl also teamed up with Janis on the “Dick Tracy” soundtrack, but for some reason their cut wasn’t on the CD.
Cheryl released a solo album in 1992, entitled Something Cool. It was a collaboration with composer/trumpeter Mark Isham, who produced, arranged and performed on the project. “I’ve always admired Mark’s work, both his film scores and his own albums. I felt there was something about his moody, emotional and sometimes dramatic themes that would be compatible with my own singing style,” says Cheryl. She explains that she was delighted with the results: “The original concept was to do an updated tribute to the cool jazz singers of the 50’s, particularly June Christy. But Mark did such an incredible job on the arrangements that the songs sound strikingly modernistic and beautiful. These arrangements have brought out a new dimension to my singing, I think. It’s like nothing I ever heard.”
In 2000, Cheryl recorded and released an original cast album of her new musical revue based the music and wit of Cole Porter. Dreaming Of Mister Porter has played to sold-out audiences and received rave reviews in Boston and Seattle. The CD was sold for a limited time through The Manhattan Transfer Fan Club, but is currently out of print.
In 2002, Cheryl Bentyne released a solo album called Talk of the Town. It was originally available only in Japan (2202 King KICJ 439). Track Listing: “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Little Butterfly,” “Very Thought Of You,” “Love Me Or Leave Me,” “Everything Happens To Me,” “Farmer’s Market,” “Talk Of Town / Get Out Of Town,” “Girl Talk,” “Meaning Of The Blues,” “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “These Foolish Things,” “Still Good Friends.” Her backing band for this album includes: Kenny Barron, John Patittuci, Lewis Nash, David “Fathead” Newman, Corey Allen, and Chuck Mangione. In 2004, the album was released domestically on the Telarc label with a different cover. Purchase Here
In 2003, Cheryl released a wonderful DVD out called Among Friends. This amazing session features features Corey Allen on piano, Grant Geissman on guitar, Kevin Axt on bass, and David Tull on drums. This recording is NOT an attempt to “document” a live recording of Cheryl and her band, but instead an exploration of high-resolution recording coupled with aggressive 5.1 channel surround mixing. AIX Records uses no EQ, dynamics processing or artificial reverberation… everything you hear is as the musicians played it. Purchase Here
Cheryl Bentyne released two more solo CDs during 2003. Both Moonlight Serenade (KICJ-453) and The Lights Still Burn (KICJ-462) were released on King Records (of Japan). Track Listing for Moonlight Serenade: “Moonlight Serenade” (Glen Miller / Mitchell Parish), “Blue Prelude” (Gordon Jenkins /Joe Bishop), “Alice In Wonderland” (Sammy Fain/Bob Hillard), “Caravan” (Dule Elington/Juan Tizol/Mills Irving), “How High The Moon” (Lewis Morgan/Nancy Hamilton), “Land Of Make Believe” (Chuck Mangione), “Soft Strum Blues” (Octavio Bailly/Al Jarreau), “My One And Only Love” (Guy Wood/Robert Mellin), “For Claudio” (Corey Allen/Alex Acuna), “Tull Tales” (Corey Allen), and “Since First I Saw Your Face” (Corey Allen).Players: Corey Allen – Keyboards, Don Alias – Percussion, Kevin Aks – Bass, Dave Tull – Drums/vocals, Grant Geissman – Guitar/Mandolin, Roger Treece – vocals, Mark Kibble – vocals, and special guest Kevin Mahogany. Purchase MOONLIGHT SERENADE Here
The Lights Still Burn is a mix of pop and jazz tunes with a track list that includes “Black Coffee”, “Killing Me Softly (With His Song)”, “Sophisticated Lady”, “What the World Needs Now” and many more. Purchase “THE LIGHTS STILL BURN” Here
Cheryl’s fourth release on King Records (of Japan) is called Cheryl Bentyne Sings “Waltz For Debby” (KICJ-477), which is a very intimate recording with just Kenny Barron and Ray Drummond. Purchase Here
Bentyne then joined the Telarc label in 2004 with a domestic release of Talk of the Town.
Cheryl’s second release on the Telarc label, Let Me Off Uptown, pays tribute to the legendary voice and music of Anita O’Day. One of the most hard-swinging vocalists in the annals of jazz, O’Day imbued every song she sang with a unique tonal quality, a compelling improvisational style and an innate sense of rhythm. Highlights of the 13-track set include the title track, a lighthearted duet with vocalist/trumpeter Jack Sheldon (who returns later in the set for “The Man with a Horn” and “Whisper Not”); a swinging rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose” propelled by Kevin Axt’s clean walking bass lines; and a mellow reading of “Skylark,” quietly underscored by Allen, Axt and drummer Dave Tull.
The Book Of Love is Cheryl’s third album on Telarc. Songs inclunde, “You Taught My Heart To Sing,” “Cry Me A River,” “Be My Love,” and “You Don’t Know Me.” Vocalist and fellow Telarc label-mate, John Pizzarelli duets with CB on “Blue Moon.” Also appearing on the album are Wayne Johnson, Bob Sheppard, Corey Allen, and “Take 6” vocalists, Mark Kibble and Alvin Chea. Purchase Here
Cheryl currently lives in southern California with her husband, pianist/arranger Corey Allen, and their daughter Zoe, who was born in 1995. Be sure to visit Cheryl’s official website at: www.cherylbentyne.net