Salvatore "Sonny" Bono (b. Feb. 16, 1935) started out at Los Angeles-based Specialty Records as a songwriter in the late '50s, responsible for "Koko Joe" by Don and Dewey and "She Said Yeah" for Larry Williams, which was later covered by the Rolling Stones and the Righteous Brothers. Bono became a protégé of Phil Spector, managing to write a handful of successful songs, most notably "Needles and Pins" in collaboration with his protégé Jack Nitzsche, which became a success for Jackie DeShannon and a huge international hit for the Searchers.
In 1963, while working on sessions with Phil Spector, Sonny met a 16-year-old, would-be singer named Cherilyn Sarkasian Lapierre (b. May 20, 1946), at a coffee shop next to a Los Angeles radio station. She had earlier recorded the Spector-produced single "Ringo, I Love You", released under the name Bonnie Jo Mason. Although Sonny was married to Donna Rankin, with whom he had a daughter, his interest in Cher grew until he eventually ended his marriage.
Sonny and Cher were later married and although she was reluctant, the pair formed a professional duet, initially known as Caesar and Cleo. The pair released the singles "The Letter", "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Love Is Strange", with little effect. It was only after they were signed to Atlantic Records as Sonny and Cher that success came their way. The couple embarked on parallel careers, with Cher later signed to Liberty/Imperial Records as a solo act.
They were a strange team in the sense that neither had a great voice and, indeed, their voices were so similar that Atlantic's president Ahmet Ertegun was convinced that Sonny had come close to breaking his contract by singing with Cher on her solo hit "All I Really Want to Do". That song, however, also demonstrated their ability to spot a hit, as well as good material for themselves. They'd heard the Byrds performing the Dylan song at a club in Los Angeles and got Cher's recording out before the Byrds' own was in stores, beating the folk-rock group at its own game of popularizing Dylan songs. She subsequently hit with "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" while Sonny charted with "Laugh at Me" on Atco, but their biggest success was as a duet on Atco, with "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On."
For a time, from 1965 until 1967, they were rock & roll's hottest couple, so much so that in some conservative communities they were considered almost morally subversive; parents locked up their kids when Sonny and Cher were passing through for a concert appearance. They were popular enough, and sufficiently well-known in their images that the Rolling Stones impersonated them on the British television music showcase Ready, Steady, Go, miming to "I Got You Babe" with Brian Jones subbing for Sonny.
Then, as quickly as they started, the hits stopped coming, and the couple made some daringly creative but unsuccessful commercial missteps, even a movie (Good Times, directed by William Friedkin in his debut) that was, like the Monkees' Head, too far ahead of its time for critics or all but the most advanced fans to appreciate. A further film effort, Chastity, a name shared by their daughter, also bombed, and the sudden confrontation of a $200,000 income tax debt forced the couple to continue working. Further, they were unable to record because of a dispute with Atlantic over Sonny's objections to the way that Cher's solo career was being handled.
They were playing supper clubs and Las Vegas nightclubs, opening for people like Pat Boone, when Johnny Musso, a friend of the couple, was jumping from an executive position at Atlantic to run Decca Records' Kapp label subsidiary, and brought the duo with him. At around the same time, their stage act -- which had evolved into a kind of "with it" domestic comedy routine nearly as prominent as the music, with the tall, wry-witted Cher cutting up on the seemingly dim-witted Sonny -- was spotted by Fred Silverman, who was then the head of programming for CBS. They ended up with a summer replacement try-out show that did so well that Sonny and Cher were given a regular spot in the CBS line-up in January 1972 with a comedy-variety series.
The couple's recording career was revived initially by a live album, cut in one night at Las Vegas, featuring new versions of their early hits as well as parts of their current repertory. The album went gold. The next couple of singles by Cher, and Sonny & Cher failed, but producer Snuff Garrett, who had been at Liberty when Cher was there but had never worked with her, was brought in, and the result was "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves", a career-reviving number one hit. After that, "The Way of Love", "All I Ever Need Is You", "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done", "Half Breed", and "Dark Lady" kept either Cher or the couple in the Top Ten at various times through 1974. By then, however, their marriage had fallen apart, and with it, the success of their TV show.
Cher's new musical direction coincided with her split from her husband and mentor. As evidenced throughout her solo career, Cher had a darker side than Sonny was willing to explore in music and the inherent differences between the two eventually drove them apart. Although it was Sonny whose knowledge of the industry had gotten them as far as they'd come, there was no denying that there was no Sonny & Cher without Cher.
With her larger-than-life personality and over-the-top Bob Mackie costumes, Cher continued to sell out shows in Vegas and produce albums as she'd done with Sonny. Now in control of her own destiny, Cher decided to pursue a life-long dream of acting. Surprisingly though, her Mae West attitude and relationship with what was seen by some as the svengali-like Bono, prevented her immediate transition to the silver screen. Not one to give up, Cher headed to New York, where she landed a supporting role in "Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean". Her impressive performance in 'come back' led to a co-starring role in Mike Nichols' "Silkwood". While roles in 1985's "Mask" and 1987's "The Witches Of Eastwick" helped to establish her as a serious actress, it wasn't until "Moonstruck" that she received the Oscar for best actress.
As Cher's acting career soared, her singing career fell by the wayside and her personal life became a wild ride of equal parts tabloid exploitation and personal revelation. Romantically linked with David Geffen and Gene Simmons, Cher's second marriage was to Greg Allman in June, 1975. To say that the union was shakey would be an understatement. The pair separated after just nine days; reconciled and later divorced in 1977. The birth of her son, Elija Blue, in 1976 and a handful of highly-publicized relationships with younger men forced Cher into the spotlight more often than her music, making it harder and harder for her to remember what it was she hoped to be getting from her insane career.
In 1996, Cher was back on the charts with "One By One", a thumping dance track that was particularly well received by her large gay male following. Throughout her career, Cher could take solace in the presence of a large gay audience. With such a large homosexual following, it should have been easy for Cher to take daughter Chastity's coming out as a lesbian in stride, but such was not the case. In both Chastity's, "Family Outing" and Cher's "My First Time", it is revealed that the singer was initially saddened and worried by her daughter's revelation. It wasn't long, though, before maternal instincts kicked in, returning Cher to the role of her daughter's biggest advocate.
Meanwhile, Sonny Bono was in the restaurant business when his outrage at the bureaucracy of the government in Palm Springs, CA caused him to declare his candidacy for mayor. He won the election, and subsequently was elected to Congress during the 1994 Republican sweep of the House of Representatives. He continued to represent Cher's business interests (the name Sonny and Cher is trademarked), and was beginning to make a mark as a conservative Republican member of the California House delegation when he died in a skiing accident in 1998. Bono's fourth wife, Mary, succeeded him to the same House seat in a special election and the general election in 1998.
In 1998, Cher released "Believe", and album which quickly became her biggest to date. The album's title track has already become the England's biggest-selling single ever, and paved the way for the second cut, "Strong Enough", to sweep national and international charts. A completely dance-driven album, "Believe" covers Amy Grant's "The Power" and the singer's own 80's hit "We All Sleep Alone". Perhaps the most laudable aspect of the album is the way in which it makes use of the industry's latest technological achievements to support the artist's vocals, rather than to obviate them. With such an indelible spirit and commanding presence, is it any wonder that Cher was asked to co-headline vh1's "Divas Live 99", with such musical luminaries as Tina Turner and Whitney Houston?
In 2002, Cher set out on long series of concerts that she said would be her farewell tour.
The next year, Warner Bros. released a compilation album, "The Very Best of Cher", which debuted in the top-10 and peaked at number 4 on the album charts. It included "I Got You Babe", "The Beat Goes On", "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves", "Half-Breed", "Song for the Lonely," and "Believe".
Cher is also the author of several beauty and fitness books, and is also active in social and philanthropic causes such as AIDS, gay rights and the Children's Craniofacial Association.
On May 2nd, 2005, Cher, now 58, played to a sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Bowl and insisted that this final concert on her 325-stop tour really was the end. However, she continued to crank out the hits and in 2011, as her latest release, "Haven't Seen the Last of Me" raced up Billboard's Dance Club Song chart, Cher was poised to mark the sixth decade in which she had a #1 hit. Her track record of achieving chart topping records includes: The 1960s - "I Got You Babe". The 1970s - "Gypsys, Tramps And Thieves", "Half Breed", "Dark Lady" and "All I Ever Need Is You." The 1980s - "If I Could Turn Back Time" and "After All" (with Peter Cetera) The 1990s - "Believe", "Strong Enough" and "All or Nothing". The 2000s - "Song For the Lonely", "A Different Kind of Love Song" and "When The Money's Gone".
In February, 2012, Cher announced that she would embark on a tour in September, marking her first extended road trip since 2005. A new album is also in the works, slated for a Christmas release and a new single, "Woman's World", was debuted on November 22nd.
In May, 2013, Cher's mother, 86-year-old Georgia Holt, made her Billboard chart debut with an LP entitled "Honky Tonk Women". The collection consisted of resurected tracks that Holt originally recorded in her garage in 1980 with some former members of Elvis Preley's band. The album, which includes covers and original material written by Holt, arrived at #13 on Heatseekers Albums and #43 on Top Country Albums. During its release week, Cher and her mom were making the rounds on American talk shows, including The Tonight Show With Jay Leno", Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Cher's half-sister, Georganna La Pere was a regular on the TV show, General Hospital.