R&B Songstress Cherrelle on Singing Sweetly About Cheating on Your Lover

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Alexander O'Neal and Cherrelle perform at Yoshi's on Jan. 11-12.
No R&B duo of the '80s was as harmonious as Cherrelle and Alexander O'Neal, the platonic pair of singers who belted out anthems of deep love ("Never Knew Love Like This") and secret dalliances ("Saturday Love"). And despite years of ups and downs in the music business and in their respective personal lives -- which included allegations of O'Neal's entrenched cocaine abuse and the tragic loss of Cherrelle's husband (as touched upon in their episode of the Unsung documentary series) -- the two still storm the stage together and sound as flawless as they did 30 years ago. We witnessed this firsthand during their most recent Bay Area performance at Concord's Sleep Train Pavilion in the summer of 2011, where their chemistry was solidly intact.

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Cherrelle was born Cheryl Ann Norton, her stage name bestowed on her in her early 20s by an old boss frustrated with her lateness. Now, the 54-year-old singer has nearly 40 years of performing under her belt, largely as her own boss. On the precipice of her four shows with Alexander O' Neal this week at Yoshi's on January 11-12, Cherrelle called us to discuss the milestones achieved through her strong work ethic as well as tabloid perceptions of her legendary partnership.

What can people expect at your live show?

Cherrelle: A lot of good energy and just good music. A lot of fun! I don't believe in making this a job. I have a gift to do it and it's meant for what it's meant for: To enjoy yourself, to feel good, to get up and dance, and remember what you were doing in those days.

Do you still do a lot of live shows these days?

Oh yeah, that's all I do all the time. I work nonstop. I have not stopped and I'm going on almost 40 years in March or April of this year.

So you're doing a lot of traveling, but do you actually get to see the places you go to, or is it more like you see the venue and the hotel and that's it?

A lot of times that's how it is. One thing that I have done throughout my career is that I've treated myself in such a manner that it is a career for me. I studied music, I studied theater, I went to school for it, so I kind of treat it in that manner, that whether or not I can hang out, I've always been the one to go in my room and chill. And I don't do too much before a show. But my family and my friends have had the opportunity of enjoying a lot of it.

That must be a great feeling to make different places accessible to them and to take them along on some of your adventures.

Yeah, it is! And I'm still grateful because I've gone to a lot of places that I would probably never have gone in a lifetime. I've seen a lot of things and been to a lot of places in my life and times, in the words of Donny Hathaway, right?

Your songs deal with some racy and scandalous subjects, like affairs and having someone on the side, but you always talked about it with such sweetness and class. What do you think about the very explicit nature of current R&B?

Well, to be honest with you, I don't male-bash. I don't believe in male-bashing. I write about things that are natural, that happen in life. They're not abnormal and we're not going to catch them all, but we're not going to miss them all, either. I just believe in being accountable and being responsible for what you've got.

I had to understand what an affair is; an affair is only if you're married. I had to learn that. It's only an affair if you're married. Married couples have affairs; couples who are committed [but not married] get cheated on. Do I agree with either/or? No. Does it happen? Yes. Do I think we should confront it head on? Sure I do! But at the same time, everybody changes in life and people make mistakes. I just don't think everyone should be held in bondage for something in the past that can really go away if you just say, "Okay, I'm sorry. I did it, I'm sorry, and let's move on." And then try not to make that mistake again.

People always say, "Oh Cherrelle, you're so easygoing." No, I'm not easygoing! I might not be in a relationship anymore but I don't believe that people should have to lie to themselves just to make somebody else feel good.

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Yoshi's San Francisco

1330 Fillmore, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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