Byline: Julee Greenberg

NEW YORK — Just signed to Arista Records about a month ago, Cherokee is poised to make a comeback to the music scene with a different sound and brand-new attitude that reflects how she’s feeling about life these days.
This February, the R&B singer’s new album, called “Soul Parade,” is set to hit stores, and a sneak preview reveals a new energy compared with the slow and depressing sound of her first album, 1999’s “I Love You…Me.”
“My first album was serious, mellow and laid back,” she explained. “It reflected what I was going through in my personal life at the time. The new album is much different, it’s fun and flirtatious.”
Being half Cherokee Native American and half African-American, she was nicknamed Cherokee by her mother when she was a little girl and said she hasn’t used her given name since. Always a true music lover, she grew up in Brooklyn with her mother, four sisters and one brother. Her father left when she was too young to remember and just recently stepped back into her life. As a teenager, she was a break-dancer on the streets of Manhattan.
“I made a lot of money by dancing,” she said in an interview last week at her manager’s office in Manhattan. “I paid for all of my clothes myself.”
The rest of her past sounds much like that of the Ike and Tina Turner story. When she was still a teen, Cherokee married her childhood sweetheart, Auto, who helped her emerge into the music industry. Soon, she found herself in an abusive and controlling relationship with him, a situation that was tough to escape.
Finally, with the guidance of her manager, Herb Trawick, she left him after four years of marriage and has not seen him since. Her first album was released soon after from RCA Records and contains music of depression and hard times, she said.
Now, the 27-year-old Cherokee is a whole new woman with a confidence she said she never felt before. She openly talks about her past and the hard times she went through with her ex-husband, but says she uses them as learning experiences to never let herself get into a situation like that again. When she was let go from RCA, she soon found Arista to release her next album and couldn’t be happier.
“I will miss my RCA family,” she said. “But Arista really understands my music and what I want to do. They said they don’t have another artist like me, and that makes them happy. Plus, being responsible for artists like Whitney Houston, TLC and Toni Braxton makes me believe they are really good with making women stars.”
Inspired by performers such as Michael Jackson, James Brown, Prince and, of course, Tina Turner, Cherokee said she admires those who are aggressive onstage and perform by singing and dancing all at once. She said she also loves to dance and believes she has a stage presence much like her idols.
“Sometimes, I wish I could stand up on stage and just sing,” she explained. “But I like to do more than that. I like to perform.”
While her first love will always be music, fashion is a close second, she said.
“I always loved fashion and clothes,” she said. “I love to shop. I can shop all day, everyday. If I am worried about something or depressed for any reason, forget it. I just keep charging up those credit cards. I also love dressing for photo shoots. We did a 12-hour shoot for my album and I was sad when it was over.”
While she admits her passion for shopping and clothes, Cherokee insisted that she doesn’t have a favorite designer. She said she prefers the thrill of the hunt by going to thrift stores for clothes.
“When I make money, I am going to have a small apartment and tons of clothes,” she said. “That’s what I would rather spend my money on.”
At the moment, a long, sexy, royal blue dress that she bought on sale at Fred Segal in Los Angeles is her favorite item hanging in her closet.
“I just feel really good when I have it on,” she said. “It’s my favorite color and very Seventies looking. I got it for 75 percent off!”
Cherokee said she makes a lot of her clothes herself or her friends do it. She also encourages teens to do the same.
“Fashion is about being an individual, and I think it’s good to have your own style,” she explained. “So many teens are so creative, and I think they need to express that creativity. They shouldn’t be afraid to cut up a pair of jeans or add something to a T-shirt.”
As for the future, Cherokee said she would like to use her knowledge and experiences in the industry to help other up-and-coming artists. Currently featured in a print and TV ad campaign for Gap stores, she is interested in doing more campaigns, and she’s taking acting classes, hoping that, one day, she will be in a film.
“I think I would be really good in a drama, something where I have to cry or maybe be a gangster,” she said. “I think I would be a good thug.”
But she’s not quite ready for the movies yet. For now, Cherokee is concentrating on the release of her album and hopes a concert tour will follow. She is also constantly writing lyrics for herself and other artists, as well.
“I will always stay in music,” she stressed. “I believe this is my calling. I didn’t pick music, music picked me.”