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Backup Singer to Goddess of Pop: The Evolution of Cher

Backup Singer to Goddess of Pop: The Evolution of Cher

Cher is one of our national treasures. The Goddess of Pop is a gay icon, an award-winning actor, and a philanthropist.

But did you know she began as a backup singer at 16?

We decided to learn more about Cher’s story.

Let’s jump in!

The Story of Cher

Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946, in El Centro, California. She’s a singer, actress, and patron known for her contralto voice and iconic career. Her father was Armenian-American and her mother, the actress Georgia Holt, is of Irish, English, German and Cherokee ancestry. 

Her parents divorced when she was only ten months old, and her mother re-married the actor John Southall. Cher and her half-sister, Georgeann, worked as extras in TV shows, such as The Ozzie and Harriet Show. Sadly, Georgia and John divorced when Cher was nine, and her mother moved around the country for several years. 

They were destitute, even to the point where Cher’s mother had to leave her in an orphanage for several months. In 1961 her mother married Gilbert LaPierre, who adopted Cher and her sister and put them into a private school in Encino. Cher was extremely popular and creative, singing and performing for her schoolmates. 

Cher says, “I was never really in school, I was always thinking about when I was grown-up and famous.” She moved to LA with a friend at 16 and took acting classes while working. There, Cher met Sonny Bono in 1962 and became his housekeeper. Bono introduced her to producer Phil Spector and got her jobs as a backup singer. 

Sonny and Cher

Cher sang back-up for some of the most famous groups at the time, such as The Ronettes in Be My Baby and The Righteous Brothers in You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Cher and Sonny’s friendship evolved into a relationship and eventual marriage. 

In fact, she had terrible stage fright but could conquer it if she looked at Sonny. They embarked on a career as a duo called Caesar and Cleo. 

An illustration showing Cher in the 1960s, then as an older woman.

In 1965 they changed their name to Sonny and Cher. They were popular for a while, but by the end of the 60s, their music wasn’t charting, and their relationship was fraying. 

Cher gave birth to their child, Chaz Bono, on May 4, 1969, and they officially married afterward. Their careers also revived somewhat with their TV show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. It was around this time the Goddess adopted her “costume” of low-cut, sexy gowns. She also honed her acting and comedic skills. 

The couple divorced in 1975, and Cher married rock musician Greg Allman four days later. They divorced in under two weeks because of Allman’s drug and alcohol issues, but they reconciled a few weeks later. They had a son together, Elijah Blue, born July 10, 1976. Cher and Allman’s relationship ended in 1977.

Becoming Cher

She changed her name from Cher Sarkisian La Piere Bono Allman to just Cher in 1979. In the years after the early marriages, her music had many ups and downs as she shifted through various musical genres. 

In the 1980s, the singer broke out as a phenomenal actress, winning an Academy and Golden Globe Award for her role in Silkwood as Meryl Streep’s roommate.

Cher formed a production company, Isis, in 1985. Her next movie, Mask, was a critical and commercial success, and she won the Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress. In 1987 the legend starred in three films, including Moonstruck, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. 

She also revived her musical career with her 1987 album, Cher. These successes, combined with her controversial lifestyle – her romantic relationships with younger men, her tattoos, and her revealing fashion style – solidified her status as an icon in the making. 

Beyond the Music and Movies

Cher is not only a famous musician, fashionista, and actress, but she’s also known for her activism and philanthropy. The singer has always been a champion for soldiers and veterans. Her movie, Mask, about a single mother with a son who had a severe facial deformity, inspired her to become the Chair and Spokesperson for the Children’s Craniofacial Association. 

She’s also worked with Habitat for Humanity and animal rights and politics. By far, though, Cher’s most known as an LGBTQ+ activist and spokesperson. Her oldest child, Chaz Bono, came out as a lesbian at age 17, and Cher quickly realized that the LGBTQ+ community didn’t have the same rights as other citizens. 

Chaz also came out as trans and was fully legally recognized as male in 2010. Cher has used her celebrity to give back to the world and help many who are marginalized or vulnerable. 

The Goddess of Pop sold over 100 million albums and is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. She’s the only artist to have a number-one single in six consecutive decades, from the 1960s to the 2010s. Cher’s also the recipient of over 130 awards and honors throughout her career for music, acting, and numerous charitable works.

Cher’s Best Known Songs

If I Could Turn Back Time

If I Could Turn Back Time was a single on Cher’s 19th studio album, Heart of Stone, released in 1989. Diane Warren wrote it for Cher, who rejected it at first. But Warren finally convinced her. It became a massive hit and is her most well-known song.

The music video for the hit was highly controversial at the time. MTV banned it at first and then only played it after 9 pm. In the video, Cher performs the song for a ship full of US Navy sailors on the deck of the USS Mississippi. She’s wearing only a sheer bodystocking with a skinny black thong that shows her bottom and a butterfly tattoo. 

The video is pure Cher riling the sailors up, wearing their hats, strutting all over the ship’s deck, and straddling a cannon. 

I Found Someone

I Found Someone was a single on her 18th album, Cher, released in November 1987. The single reached #5 in the UK and #10 in the US. Michael Bolton and Mark Mangold initially wrote it for singer Laura Brannigan’s 1985 album, Hold Me. 

Brannigan’s version was slower and softer, and Cher’s version was a true 1980s power ballad. It was also instrumental in her musical comeback during the height of her movie career.


Believe was the first single on Cher’s 22nd album, released in October 1998. She dedicated the record to her ex-husband, Sonny Bono, who had died earlier that year. It was yet another significant change in direction for the Goddess. 

The album was electronic dance music aimed at connecting with her enormous gay audience. Believe was one of the first songs to use the new Auto-Tune technology. Cranking the modifier way up became known as “the Cher effect.” It was a massive hit and is still one of the best-selling singles ever.

Was Cher in The Wrecking Crew?

The Wrecking Crew was a collective of studio musicians active during the 1960s and 70s who worked for Phil Spector. They helped Spector build his “Wall of Sound” style. The Wrecking Crew was the most respected and requested group of musicians at the time. Cher became a part of The Crew when she was only 16 and met Spector through Sonny Bono. 

The singer says in an interview that Spector told her, “Look, I just need noise, so just get out there.” After that, she was in every Spector song, and her last one as a backup singer was, I’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.

Does a Cher Barbie Doll Exist?

The first Cher (and Sonny) dolls were made in 1976 by Mego, in direct competition with the Barbie doll. Bob Mackie designed the wardrobe for the Cher doll, Mego released them during the popularity of The Sonny and Cher Show.

Later, in 2001 and 2007, Mattel produced four different Cher dolls. The wardrobes were also designed by Bob Mackie and showcase some of Cher’s most famous – and scandalous – outfits. One of them is the outfit she wore for the If I Could Turn Back Time video.

Cher: A True Goddess

Cher is indeed one of the world’s icons. Never afraid to just be herself and live life on her terms, the legend continues to enjoy a long and successful career in singing, acting, and philanthropy. She’s a force of nature, a creative monster, a gay icon, and a compassionate benefactor. 

Cher started working as a backup singer at 16 and has never stopped, constantly reinventing herself. She’s an inspiration and a true Goddess.

What’s your favorite incarnation of Cher?