by Devyn Imholt
Cheryl Cooley is a musician and guitarist who was part of the legendary all-female RnB group KLYMAXX. Raised in Los Angeles, California, Cheryl knew from a young age that music was going to play an intricate role in her life. In a discussion with Cheryl, I was able to learn about the twists and turns within the journey of KLYMAXX and how Cheryl has been able to keep the band’s legacy alive.
As a child, Cheryl would receive a toy guitar every other Christmas from her parents. No one in her family had ever been part of the music business until her older sister married a musician. One Christmas, while tuning her toy guitar, Cheryl’s sister suggested that she begin taking guitar lessons. Cheryl began these guitar lessons at eleven years old, going on to study orchestration, arrangement, and composition at Crenshaw High School. Inspired by the bands she saw on TV, Cheryl recognized that she wanted to make music her profession.
After graduating high school, Cheryl went to LA City College where she received a degree in Commercial Music. Following her time in school, Cheryl began to play in various community bands. At the time, women becoming professional musicians was uncommon. Cheryl explained that she was discouraged by many male musicians who didn’t believe that she could turn her dreams into reality. Of this kind of treatment, Cheryl explained that “it didn’t discourage me because I just knew deep within me that I was going to be a professional musician someday.”
Eventually, Cheryl would strike gold as she met a group of girls trying to create an all-female RnB group called KLYMAXX. In 1979, Cheryl met the other girls at a rehearsal studio in Hollywood and quickly recognized that they were on to something special. The group didn’t have the formula to follow in terms of other all-female RnB groups, so instead, they focused on having fun and making the best music that they could create. Eventually, through a connection at her day job, Cheryl was able to present a demo tape of KLYMAXX’s earliest work to Solar Records A&R Margaret Nash. The tape featured a song written by Cheryl, the group’s single “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman,” which would become the title track from the group’s debut project by the same name.
Margaret loved the group and thus, the signing process to Solar Records was a quick and easy one as KLYMAXX was signed a few months after sending the tape. Their debut album Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman was released in 1981. This was followed up by their sophomore release Girls Will Be Girls in 1982. Even though these first two records had not been commercially successful, Solar Records kept KLYMAXX, knowing that the group was special. After Solar teamed up with MCA as their new distributor, things would take a positive turn for KLYMAXX.
In 1984 KLYMAXX released their third project, Meeting in the Ladies Room which featured their biggest commercial records such as “The Men All Pause,” and “I Miss You” (a top 5 Billboard charting hit). This project became the group’s breakthrough project, propelling them to a new level of stardom in the music industry. Following the success of this record, the group would release two more projects Klymaxx and The Maxx is Back before disbanding in 1990.
When I asked Cheryl what it was like to be a member of one of the hottest musical groups in the 80s, she explained that “it was an expected part of her life.” Since she had dreamed of musical success since she was a child, once it came it felt as if the “world had finally opened up to her ideas.” After the group disbanded there was a sort of ten-year break where KLYMAXX was inactive. During this period, Cheryl entered into the world of construction trades, becoming an electrician.
Although it was an unforeseen part of the plan, becoming an electrician would play a role in KLYMAXX’s comeback. Using her newfound skills, Cheryl was able to build her own rehearsal room in her home, allowing the group to rehearse freely without time constraints. By the time the 2000s had come, various “Old School” tours reunited iconic groups from the past, allowing KLYMAXX to go back out on the road. Cheryl described KLYMAXX’s ability to continue to perform into the 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s as “unforeseen.” For Cheryl, it is spiritually uplifting to watch as the crowd “screams and hollers just like they did in the 80s.”
Despite varying opinions on the group, Cheryl has remained the member that has kept KLYMAXX’s legacy alive. In 2015 Cheryl released two different live projects, Klymaxx Live and KLYMAXX Featuring Cheryl Cooley Live. Even today, Cheryl continues to perform the group’s iconic music as she keeps the heartbeat of KLYMAXX pumping. Known as the person behind the scenes, Cheryl can compose, write, and arrange songs, building them from the ground up. Cheryl has a passion for creating both in music and life, as her musical expertise allows her to create sonic masterpieces while her electrical skills also allow her to build physical objects.
In 2021 KLYMAXX was inducted into The Women Songwriters Hall of Fame, being honored for the group’s talent and impactful creation as one of the first all-female RnB groups. This helped to acknowledge the societal footprint that KLYMAXX was able to have, empowering and inspiring female musicians from all over the world. Cheryl explained that this impact was unintentional and they were simply “having fun” and writing music based on “their own experiences.” Over the years, Cheryl has heard from numerous fans about how the group’s music has played a significant role in their lives. Cheryl described the impact that her music has been able to have as “heartwarming” and “amazing.”
When asking Cheryl about what the future will bring she told me that “we will see what 2023 brings but I think that you will be amazed.” Cheryl is rumored to be working on a new musical project, an EP that could potentially be released in the coming year. Cheryl has also been the topic of a new book to be released in the future, detailing her personal journey as well as that of KLYMAXX. Cheryl’s passion for her work was evident in the discussion with her, as she made it clear that she will be continuing to create riveting music for a long time to come.