Cheryl Wheeler has worked in the music business for half a century, but never once has she thought of it as a business.
“I never really had or cared about the music business,” says Wheeler. “I never could make myself pay attention to music as a business.”
She chuckles when she admits in her 20s she liked to smoke pot and play her guitar, and she fulfilled her dream.
“I got to fall in love with something, and 50 years later, I’m still completely fascinated to be able to lose myself in something like this. It’s such a gift to me, still.”
The luckiest part, she says, is that she’s been fortunate enough to make a living at it, with her only goal being to make enough money at it, to not have a consuming career. And, since she started playing, at the age of 10, she hasn’t had to have a day job.
But, her first performance wasn’t for the public at all; it was for a single audience member — her mother — who was naked and in a bathtub, no less.
“I sang 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore,' and she just laughed,” says Wheeler. “Apparently, I had a gift.”
She sang that song while playing a toy ukulele, adding that they laughed and sang a lot in the home where she grew up in Timonium, Maryland.
She was a musical child and a year later, Wheeler had a real ukulele and went on to get a “real” guitar and take lessons from a neighbor.
By the age of 12, she had her first public show and by 17, was writing her first songs.