Cynthia Manley's Biography

Well here it is, 2014, and after about a dozen years I am changing my creative team. The new guys say: "Give us the highlights of your career. We need your professional biography." Cool, no problem. All I have to do is update the 35 others it was preceded by. It’s not hard to update my biography because the adventure is still clear and the progress tangible.

NOW this new team of mine tells me I need to write a personal biography. You know, the type where they say "She was born a poor white child blah blah blah." We let that percolate for about 10 hours, and then I ask if maybe I could just tell a story. That’s kind of what my life, career and job is, telling stories that take people on a momentary vacation. Except I usually do it in front of an audience with music. I try to bring a little passion, love, hope, joy and common sense to folks, in a way that is real. Because I used to be a very bad girl and now I’m just a fabulous, mature woman. So I know of what I speak.

I was born on January 27, 1955, in Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, on a military base. I was born on my daddy’s birthday. Until his passing in 1997 I was always my "daddy’s girl." We moved to Perry, Oklahoma when I was 2, and then to Edmond, Oklahoma, when I was 8. I was the 4th birth my mother gave, and there were 2 more after me. We’re all girls...yes…I have 5 sisters! I tell you that because it is relevant. You’ve got to have balls to be in my business, and having 5 sisters prepares and enhances the chances of this happening.

Growing up church and school were our only socializing opportunities. We always lived on a farm outside of town. My first vocal solo was in church when I was 6 years old and although I had been singing since I could talk, I had never done a solo in public. I remember being up in the balcony at church and when the choir sang their chords, I flew for the first time as a singer. It was literally a heavenly experience.

We were poor. But I didn’t know that until I was 13 and had started Jr. High School and the city folk told me I was. We had land, a garden, cattle, chickens, wheat fields, and horses. I loved our horses and I rode like the wind honey. From the time I could crawl out to the barn and climb up the horse’s tails, I rode. I haven’t met the horse yet that could toss me. I have many scars, but none on my bum. The picture on the left, that's me and "Red" when I was about 7 years old.

My childhood was perfect, just fabulous. I was taught common sense, the value of a dollar and hard work. I was always told "why darlin’ you can do anything you set your mind to." I believed my mom. She sent my sisters and I to dance classes from the time we were each 5. We had piano lessons as well. We were never allowed to wear anything trendy that would hurt our posture. My mother with all us girls ran a military camp. Anytime we left home as a group, mom would shout, "Ok girls, shoulders back, stomachs in and heads up!" I say this to myself every time I hit a stage, all these decades later.

By the time I was 14 the family had moved to Sacramento, California, and I had discovered drugs and black folk’s music. I was raised "red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world." I had seen black people before but now we moved into an international neighborhood in Sacramento. So I was now exposed to all these various skin tones, cultures and traditions. The thing that grabbed me the hardest was the music. Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Otis Redding and Lord have mercy, Janis Joplin. "WOW" I said to my young self, white chicks can sing this stuff too! I started memorizing their every phrase. I would play their records over and over again trying to mimic their voices. I did this for years, all the while being a straight A student (Oklahoma schools were so much better than the California schools I went to.) Along the way I was introduced to drugs. I could get sidetracked on this for hours. So let’s just say it made me do stupid stuff. Things which lead me to meet people I would not have normally met and have adventures I wouldn’t have dreamed of in a sober state of mind.

When I was 17 I was singing along with a guitar player at a party. We were performing "You've Got A Friend," James Taylor’s big hit at the time (composed by Carole King). So there I am singing my little heart out and these long haired dudes say to me, as only a cocky musician can, "hey you sound pretty good." They ended up hiring me, but unfortunately we never left their garage. Some friends of theirs came by one day and heard me sing and they actually had a paying gig. So at 17 I was hired to do my first paid gig. I worked with this band for several months and remember it well for two reasons: it was my first paid gig and I got sick (a 104* temperature). I went to the gig anyways (of course). During the show I hit this note and was riding it and next thing I know I am waking up to a standing ovation. I guess I had managed to grab my mic stand and slowly lowered myself to the floor before I passed out. I was only out for a few seconds, but when I woke up to everyone screaming and cheering, I knew I had found the career for me. I had recieved my first standing ovation!

That band took me to the stars of Sacramento, "The Nite Owl Express," and they hired me. They treated me horribly. But it proved to be the best learning experience ever. We worked 5 or 6 nights a week, 5 sets a night, for 6 years. I sang every Pop hit there was between 1973 and 1979. If the vocalist was a female singer, and many that were sang by men, it was my job to sing the lead. It was a grueling work schedule. We rehearsed 2 new songs a week, making sure to do them just like the record. During the 1970's The Nite Owl Epxress continued to be the best cover band around. We were so popular that we got backers and started composing and recording records. It was a very exciting time. But I knew I had to get out of the sticks and get myself to Hollywood. And so I did.

In 1979 I moved to Silverlake, a very hippie part of Hollywood at the time. Once I moved I went straight to work, hiring myself out as lead singer to an established working band. I worked for that band just long enough to meet the club owners and agents, and then I went out on my own. I paired up with David Harvey, a brilliant composer and guitar player, and we wrote songs together. I then started my first original band. This is 1980 now, and I have found happiness in cocaine, men, and music. I sang like a maniac and was having so much fun on the stage. I know you’ve heard it a million times, but I was truly born to be on stage. I love an audience. I love waking them up and taking them on a ride. This was a great time period. Although I picked up some very bad habits, drinking like a fish and snorting cocaine like a vacuum. I did learn a lot during that period from David, especially about leadership and cooperation.

In 1980 I was sitting around, probably with a straw up my nose, and I get this call from Rudy Guess. Rudy was the musical genius behind Bill Motley’s productions. Bill had been looking for "a white girl who sounds black." Rudy wanted to know if I would come in to audition for this concept Bill was putting together, a disco cover of two songs he had turned into a medley ("Remember Me/Ain't No Mountain High Enough.") No problem. I knew both songs, so to sing it to a disco beat wasn’t much of a challenge. I sang the medley in about 15 minutes. I got paid $300.00 and left. Approximately six months later I get a call from a booking agent. I’m going to leave out the agent’s name because although he was an amazing agent back then, I sure wouldn’t want anyone to confuse who this guy used to be, with who he is now. Anyway at the time I get this call from this agent and he says "There’s this club in Boston, The Pipeline, who wants to pay you $10,000 to come sing your hit record." I say "what hit record?" and he says "You don’t know? You just broke Billboard history by being their highest ranked entry in the history of the dance music charts. You entered the national chart at #-69." This was before you could buy the chart action, when the DJs and the dance floor dictated the charts, not the artist with the deepest pockets. Needless to say, I said "book it" and we hit the road. This was the first time I did this kind of show, singing without a band. I was so pumped up after the show that I asked the owners if I could go out and "do it again." My reputation as an entertainer started growing and we made probably close to a million dollars together between 1981-1985.

So there I was 25 with a hit record and a bad cocaine addiction. These "live to tape" shows were amazing. I had never heard anything like it before. This was before Karaoke so the whole idea of performing, without a band, was brand new to me. I took to it quickly and the money was fabulous! We’d get paid in cash before each show and I was working all the time. I didn’t care if it was a small beer bar or a major club (like Studio 54), I just wanted to work. So from 1981, when "Remember Me/Ain't No Mountain High Enough" was released, until 1987 I toured. In America I realized my audiences were mostly men, and they were all gorgeous. I really didn’t understand what "gay" was. I was a cute girl my whole life so men came onto me, especially when I had a microphone in my hand. This thing where the guys just wanted my shoes and boas was brand new to me. But before long I was talking to them like I would my sisters and I was making tons of new friends. I would sit for hours after a show and autograph pictures, penises, chests, press announcements…you name it, I’ve signed it. You can look at my discography for the details, but I kept putting out records and my loyal, dedicated gay fan base kept coming to my shows. I got to tour the globe and do exciting shows in many countries, and all of this was done first class! I once stayed in a hotel where Diana Ross and a Prince from some exotic place were staying. Coming from such humble beginnings, I was quickly drawn into the free drugs, gorgeous men, and first class travel. Basically the grandeur of it all. I just went where I was told, sang, and then partied till I dropped. Then I’d rest up for the next round. Having hit records is very fun.

By 1989 I had ridden the disco train into oblivion. I have never missed a show or fallen down drunk on a stage, but my "problem" had definitely caught up with me. Being an addict wasn’t so fun anymore and it had eaten up all my money. A friend said to me one day "Cynthia, I love you, but you need help. You’re out of control, and until you have figured out how to help yourself, I don’t want to see you again. I am tired of watching you kill yourself." Another friend pointed me toward AA. December 1st 1989 was the last time I ever did cocaine. Thank God I've lived to tell the stories! From Decemeber 2nd 1989 till mid December 1991 I was completely clean and sober. No drugs and no booze. This was a very deep learning time and I came out of my drug funk full of hope and a desire to be better. I knew I didn’t want to be completely sober…it’s just not my style. But I had to get that cocaine monkey off my back and I had done it!

It was time to recreate myself. I had always liked the old school R&B, blues, and working with a live band, so this seemed the smartest road to take. I created a monster band (world class musicians who I could hire when they were not on the road with the stars). So, with an address book full of excellent musicians, I started working. I would send them my song list, and we would "jam" through the gigs. We never rehearsed because I hired musicians who were raised on the same music I was raised on, so everyone brought their specialty to my stage. And eventually we started making waves around the southlands of California. We did corporate gigs all over the country (big buck gigs for pharmaceutical companies, Coca-cola, etc.), as well as steady gigs here and there in bars, clubs, and for private parties. This was filling my bank account back up and keeping me doing what I loved. And then 9/11 hit. Within 48 hours I had lost over $40,000 in corporate dates. Everyone was afraid to fly, and so my musical world changed yet again.

By 2001 I had already composed and released one "DIY" (do it yourself) CD, and by 2006, I had recorded 3 more CD's. I sold these at my gigs, and tried to get songs added to movies and television shows. Eventually I did get three songs into movies, which still pay me today. Then I finally got my song "I Love James Brown" to the Godfather himself. There is a fun story behind this. I was in Bosnia, with my band entertaining the troops, when this deep southern voice says, "Why darlin’, I know Buddy Dallas (James Brown’s personal manager) and play golf with him back in Augusta every Wednesday. Let me give him that song about James Brown and see if he can help." Months after returning from the Balkens I got a call from Buddy, telling me that The Godfather would like to have me as his guest at the Hollywood Bowl. I didn’t get to hang with him at that show, but I was able to go to four of his shows, before his passing. The last one was at The House Of Blues in Hollywood, where he took me back stage and smoked a blunt with me. Talk about a surreal experience. There I was, little ole me, sitting with my knee touching The Godfather's knee, smoking some killer chronic with THE GODFATHER OF SOUL, MR. JAMES BROWN himself. He wouldn’t allow pictures to be taken, but the memory is one I need no pictures to remind me of. During this time, I continued to work the SoCal club scene, and had now added military tours to my resume.

The most terrifying and rewarding military experience we had was when an IED came in 30 ft. from our tent. After the initial hit, when our ears were concussed, and we were all confused and scared, rocks and dirt were hitting the side of our tent. We thought it was machine guns. Turns out no one was seriously hurt (Thank you God!), and at the end of it all, once I had my team all banded together again the Command Sergeant Major of the camp (the big boss), came into the bunker they had stuck us in, and said "Ms. Manley?" (at this point, I stood up and saluted…ya can’t help it, when you see all those medals on his chest and the straight as an arrow posture). "That’s me," I said. He took a step back, and hurrahed and saluted me saying "you are why we fight. For brave American women who stand beside and behind us. You are a true leader and a great commander, and your team is lucky to have you in charge." I can assure you that is something I will NEVER forget.

Also during this band era I took to doing high end hotels around the world. These were fun for many reasons. For one we’d go into the country for months, not days, so we actually had time to make friends and see the countryside. One of my favorite gigs was in Beijing, China where we worked The Great Wall Of China Sheraton for seven weeks, and my very favorite was The Intercontinental in Muscat, Oman. This is a very small country at the tip of the Saudi Arabian peninsula. Our gig was from January through March. We were asked to do three more months, but I had festivals booked back in L.A. for the summer. So we had to leave at the end of April, but Lordy, was that a fun gig! I walked away with not only some new friends, who are still in my world today, but the Sultan gave me a white Arabian horse to ride whenever I wanted to. My friend worked for the Sultan, so we were VIP everywhere we went. And because the country is so small, no matter where we went, we caused a stir. A big black woman with dreds to her waist on drums, and me with my bright red hair...well, let’s just say, I took total advantage of our "fame" and saw the whole country before we left. Again, this is stuff not many civilians get to experience, and we did it up right! On our nights off I always take the band on some adventure. I would hire a local to translate and off we’d go.

By 2005 dance music was coming back into my world when I was asked to go to Italy by Christain de’Walden, to compose and sing 10 songs. So I flew from Iraq to Italy and got started. This was another amazing adventure, because I got to hang in this tiny zero crime rate village in the grape vineyards of Italy just two hours from Rome for two weeks. This project produced "Everybody Dance" and three other tracks that Christain picked to release on our CD.

I recorded "Turn The Beat Around" at 146 bpm, and was about to release it on West Coast Productions (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers), when Gloria Estefan released her version and knocked me out of the water. I still think of this record, produced by Kevin O’Connor, as one of the most brilliant vocal I ever recorded. It ain’t easy to sing "and the rat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat on the drums" at that speed, baby.

In 2009, I met Jamie Lewis and by 2010, we were putting out product. We have two out so far, including "Give" and "Sunshine Hotel."

In 2012, I created an educational package titled "You Want To Be A Rock Star," chucked full of information I have learned over the years. I hope it helps those who bought and put to use the information I gained through blood, sweat and tears. The personal side of this is that I used a dear friend's kids to produce this project. They were horrible. Their talent is huge, but their work standard (meeting deadlines, etc.) was 100% off. The lesson is, just cause people love you, doesn’t mean they are the right person for the job. The project cost me approximately $4,000 and because of all the missed deadlines, every opportunity created for it was lost. I have made about $850.00 back from my investment.

I think this is the perfect time to let you know a few more personal things about me and my life. I have never married. I have been in love and engaged three times, But twice my wonderful man of the moment said "now you can stop working and just do what you want." It had never occurred to either of them that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do! I was shortly engaged to a man I knew, that from the beginning, would never work. He proposed by putting a box under my pillow on Christmas Eve with a diamond ring in it. Inside the box it said "Merry Christmas" I didn’t know if he had just given me a fabulous gift or what. When I realized he really expected me to "assume" I had been proposed to my excitement diminished. We dated for awhile after that, but the thrill was gone. The last man I was crazy for sent me to a dangerous, unknown situation to make money off me. I thought to myself "Hmmm, I wouldn’t send someone I love into this situation. I don’t believe this guy is in love with me." My heart closed down. We remained "friends with benefits" but in my heart, I was a single girl again with a broken heart. So I have sacrificed my love life for my career at least twice, except that I never looked at it that way. I just feel I haven’t met the right guy yet. I've never had children. I have so many sisters and we never had any privacy, so I just wasn’t born to be a breeder. I am "The Best Auntie," in the world. But the decision to not have children is by far the smartest move I ever made.

I have been poor and I have been relatively rich. I am middle class. Sufficient in money but very rich in life. I travel. I meet new and interesting people. I sing to pay my bills. Because I have neither husband nor children needing my time and attention, I am able to give to my friendships. I am a good friend to have, and I have many amazing friends. This is a brutal business. I could have only made it this far with the help, love and guidance of my friends. I am lucky to still have some friends from before my "fame." They never let me forget from where I came from.

I am very grateful and I give back as much as I am able. I help others when I can. I have learned it isn’t bad to ask for help when I need it. Throughout history, artists have had patrons who helped them master their craft by supporting them. What’s wrong with some assistance from those who love us? Every person who receives a free download is stealing from those of us who create and pay to produce that song. Against these odds, it takes a team to make any kind of success, and so "I get by with a little help from my friends," and a whole lotta hard work.

This isn’t the life for everyone, but it fits me.

I’ll keep you posted on the adventure as it unfolds.

Thank you for your support, curiosity and time.

Respect and good will,

Love Cynthia

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...in her own words.