Originally from Woodlawn, Illinois, singer Ava Cherry was influenced musically by her love affair with the late David Bowie. In return, he released some of his most creative music during that time with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs. Cherry moved him in a more R&B direction with Young Americans and also sang with the Astronettes, a small group that Bowie created.
Her funk album Streetcar Named Desire was ahead of its time, with artists like Oscar-nominated composer Mark Isham contributing.
She appeared on Showtime Channel's David Bowie: Five Years, a documentary about his life and the Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom, a documentary about background singers.
Cherry called Windy City Times shortly after Bowie's death to discuss projects and his legacy.
Windy City Times: Hi, Ava. Did you originally want to be a singer?
Ava Cherry: Yes, I had a little group in high school. We copied off The Supremes a little bit. I always knew I wanted to sing. I used to go to the old Regal Theater. Every major act that was Black performed there every Sunday, like Michael Jackson, James Brown or Aretha Franklin. I was in high school and there every week. That was a catalyst for me.
WCT: Did you eventually move to New York?
AC: I lived here and worked as a model for a while before moving there. That is where I met David Bowie.
WCT: Who did you sing background for firstChaka Khan, David Bowie or Luther Vandross?
AC: I first started professionally with David. He was the first one to put me in the studio. Other people started asking me to do stuff from that. We started working on music together, while it was being completed I was performing with him at the same time.
WCT: You had a record producer named Bob Esty [with whom] you worked on Streetcar Named Desire.
AC: I am sure the gay community will want to hear about him. This was after David, of course. I was in L.A. and signed to Capitol Records.
WCT: Esty did albums for Cher, Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer. Did he try to push you in a gay direction?
AC: Darling, he was in the life! I just loved working with him. He was a great producer. I don't know if the money came down like the street cred did. This was a white gay man working on my record and it was after David had interracial members in his band. They were all gay, too ... well, not all of them, but the cute ones were.
WCT: When I met you at the David Bowie MCA exhibit, you were dancing with a gay man.
AC: Yeah, baby. I love gay men. They are so much fun to hang out with. Even if they don't want me, we still have fun. I don't have to make love to them to enjoy their company!
WCT: What did you think of the exhibit "David Bowie Is?"
AC: I had seen most of it myself but I loved the way Michael Darling, who was the curator, outbid everyone else from America to have it here in Chicago.
It was fabulous, all the clothes and the tours. I enjoyed it very much.
People were waiting for David to show up, but now I know the reason is because he was sick. He didn't tell anyone.
WCT: Did you know Luther Vandross very well?
AC: Extremely well. He was my brother.
WCT: Do you think he was closeted?
AC: I don't really want to talk about his sexuality. I wasn't a part of any of that and I only want to speak on what I know. All I know is that he was a great artist and taught me what I know. I was so proud to work with him.
WCT: This year I heard you are working on a cover of "Life on Mars."
AC: Yes, I am but I was also just asked to have a film made about me. That will probably part of the soundtrack. We are recording it next month.
WCT: Will this be a documentary?
AC: No; it is a film with an actress playing me when I was 18 years old. The director said she wants to make a movie about a badass Black woman that just rocks. That director is up for a NAACP Image Award next month. She wants the movie to come from my point of view. It is not about Black or white. David was totally into Black artists and their rights. He argued with that guy from MTV about why Michael Jackson's video wasn't up there. David didn't have a racist bone his body, not about gender [or sexuality] WCT: What is your opinion on the Kanye West statements recently and making a tribute album?
AC: When I heard that yesterday I just wanted to throw up. How dare he? He never said he liked David Bowie before. Where was he when the album came out? He is just one of those people that likes to jump on the bandwagon. I respect him as an artist, but don't try to be David Bowie. He will never be that!
For example, Elton John and [Bowie] were rivals back in the day. When David Bowie put out Ziggy Stardust, Elton put out "Rocket Man" just to counter it. David felt like he was copying him, which was probably true. He was trying to glam it up the same way David was with the iridescent glasses and all of that. When I saw Elton doing a tribute to him the other day, I felt it was disingenuous because they were never close in any way.
I saw a lot of artists doing things like thatespecially ones that didn't know he was an icon. They didn't know how the whole world was going to react.
WCT: How was David Bowie when he was with you, as compared to later in life?
AC: Well, let me tell you something: When I knew David, it was different era. When he met Iman after that, who is a wonderful lady, he really became the family man then. With me, he was the rocker. We did what rock stars did. After me, he became a nurturing father and husband. I never saw that side. He was compassionate to me as his girlfriend but he really became the family guy after that.