Anyone who has ever crammed for a test has at one point
or other needed a study break. Some folks take in a movie. Others go to
Vocalist Cheryl Slay wrote music, some of which will appear on her
“Some of the music which is going on this recording came to me while
studying for the bar exam,” laughs Slay. “It was like I needed a mental
break at times, and when I was taking a break this is what I would do.”
“It’s really Christian-message, but style-wise I tend not to refer to it
as gospel because doing that is a specific musical style and not just a
message,” adds the Owings Mills-based entertainment and intellectual
property practitioner. “The music is really sort of a mix of styles.
There’s some R&B, there are spirituals – of course, traditional hymns and
contemporary style. There’s a jazz rearrangement of a traditional hymn.”
Slay had taken a hiatus from songwriting in the interim between her years
at law school and when she first began work on the album three-and-a-half
“[The album was] delayed initially by finding the right producer to assist
me,” admits Slay, who also chairs the MSBA Entertainment and Sports Law
Committee. Eventually, she found him.
“We wanted to have original music, not just to deal with copyright issues,
of course, but also because you should have some original music on the
project, anyway,” notes Slay. “That meant finding some, and at that time I
was not writing. So in trying to identify music, [my producer] said to me
– somewhat casually, I thought – ‘You know, you really should think about
writing.’ And so after that I decided to do exactly that, and I just
started to get the ideas for songs.”
Although her initial forays were “a little rough,” Slay the songsmith
hammered away at her craft. “There is definitely an art to it and a skill
to it, as well,” she explains.
And as with any labor of love, such things do not happen overnight.
“We did sing as a family on occasion,” Slay recalls of her childhood in
the Motor City – Detroit. “My dad has a beautiful voice, [and] my mother
In elementary school, Slay took up singing in the glee club, as well as
viola and piano lessons (the latter of which she still plays to this day).
But the impetus for her decision to perform in public did not come until
well into her 20s.
“I was in church, just sitting in my pew singing a congregational hymn,
and someone sitting in the row behind me heard me sing and said, ‘You
know, you should think about doing some solos for our church.’ I took it
as encouragement – I just felt like that was something I should pursue.
And so I said, ‘Well, maybe I will.’ That particular church had a section
in the worship service featuring solo artists, solo performances. And so I
For Slay the singer, the decision to “go public” marked a turning point.
“Once people hear you sing publicly, that’s it,” she admits. “You start to
get invitations for weddings and banquets and other solo opportunities,
and that’s what happened. Then, the more people hear you sing, the more
encouragement you get. [People] would ask me, ‘Do you have something on
tape that I could have?’ I never had anything, and that’s when they’d say,
‘Well, you should think about recording something.’”
Over time, Slay honed her skill with formal training. “I decided I needed
to better understand the techniques and preserve my voice. When you sing a
lot, your voice gets tired, and depending on the type of music that you’re
singing you can damage it. Some of the old gospel songs will really get
you going, and you want to preserve [your voice].”
Given the various musical styles presented on her forthcoming album,
however, belie influences that go beyond the liturgy. “I really like
ballads,” says Slay, whose tastes range from Carole King to Crystal Gayle.
“They best suit my voice.
“I would say that Dionne Warwick is a huge influence on me, and I always
think about how she had just the purest…just really beautiful quality
about her voice. Burt Bacharach says that for many years she was the only
person who could sing what he wrote, and I just think that it’s just a
beautiful quality. It is a very different style than the way they sing
today – you know, a lot of different things, like holding notes out very
long. But I always liked that pure quality, and I still strive for that.”
Slay’s self-described musical eclecticism also extends well beyond pop
convention. A trip to the Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore’s (www.muniopera.org)
production of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha left Slay so enamored of the
style that she spoke with the company’s owner after the production – a
move which eventually led to an invitation to sit on the company’s board
But a year-and-a-half stint performing at Christian coffeehouses with a
Springfield, Virginia-based group affirmed the inexorable bond between
Slay’s passion for her music and her faith – even, by odd coincidence, her
“Believe it or not,” she laughs, “[of the] six band members, four [were]
attorneys…well, two of them were husband and wife.”
Despite that particular coincidence, Slay does see a concentration of
lawyers following artistic paths outside their own practices, particularly
those who focus in the field of entertainment law.
“Doing entertainment law as I do, you do meet (entertainment attorneys)
who have this background, who play in a band or who have played in a band
or have some connection to music.”
Between her own law practice and musical ambitions, Slay admits that “one
compliments the other.” And the benefits are not singer Slay’s alone.
“It’s been a great experience in terms of what is involved in going into
the studio,” she continues. “What is an artist experiencing? I know
firsthand. I am a musician; I understand the language. I know a lot of
different things that are going on in the studio, and this really does
Slay also offers the occasional constructive criticism to artists looking
to shop their talents. “I try not to say much about matters of taste,” she
admits. “I don’t know what the buying public would want – it varies from
year to year. But I [will say], you know, ‘Those notes don’t match’ [or]
‘Your vocals clash.’ I do give that kind of feedback. Now, what you do
beyond that is up to you.”
Be it the occasional church solo or her recent performance at her law
school reunion, Slay strives to keep her voice in good working order with
her own time-tested prescription: practice.
“I try to create opportunities for myself,” she admits. “[It’s] not a
profound answer, but I do it because I can. It is also interesting to me
that 20 years after starting to do this publicly, there [have been]
changes [to my voice], and I actually think that it’s getting better in
some ways. There’s a certain amount of growth, and that’s very rewarding.
You know, if you don’t use the abilities that you have, eventually you
will lose them, and I don’t want that to happen.”
Slay’s musical aspirations include future collaborations with other
singers and songwriters. There’s even talk of Slay one day having her own
record label to promote and encourage other artists.
But first there’s the question of some not-quite-yet-finished business.
“This will be a commercially-available CD, but it will not have the full
number of songs on it that you would find on some CDs,” Slay admits. “It
will not have 16 or 17 songs.”
“I would never [have that many],” she adds with a laugh. “It would take me
10 years to get it done.”