Wild Cherry

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cherryexoticposeENO-sm1Burlesque Legend Wild Cherry talks New Orleans, burlesque revivals, and “taking it outside”.

By: Divertida Devotchka

New Orleans burlesque legend Wild Cherry grew up travelling the carnival circuit with her family, and her first performances were carnival girlie shows.  She began dancing in New Orleans night clubs in the late 1950s. “I just wanted to make a living, because I had not had any formal schooling.” explains Cherry.  Her stage name was given to her by a club owner who found it was befitting of her feisty personality. Cherry danced in various clubs throughout the French Quarter over the years and has fond memories of dancing, drinking, and of course, fighting. According to Cherry, there were certainly some clubs she didn’t stay at for very long. “I worked at some clubs with bad reputations- girls fighting a lot, and some managers even hit the girls. That never happened to me though,” Cherry said.  “Maybe because my name put them off, I don’t know.”

There’s known to be intermittent cattiness and drama in some aspects of the burlesque scene, but Wild Cherry says things are nothing like they used to be. “There wasn’t a lot of that catfight stuff. Nah, these girls were pretty rough,” Cherry said in an interview with Rick Delaup, producer of New Orleans’ own Bustout Burlesque and the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. “And if they did decide they didn’t like somebody, in theaters I’ve seen, they would take a rolling pin and a light bulb, and grind that glass up fine like a powder and put it in your face powder. They would put shoe polish in the eye mascara tube. They could get really rough. They didn’t play.”

I found the “crushed glass in the face powder” gag to be rather shocking, so when I asked Cherry about it in our interview, she casually replied, “Well, I was glad I didn’t use powder, for one thing! I used pancake makeup instead and I suppose I would have seen crushed glass in that.”

In recent years, Wild Cherry has performed in several of the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend Legends showcases, as well as performing occasionally with New Orleans troupe Fleur de Tease, and she’s also done a comedic monologue in some Bustout Burlesque shows. She’ll be appearing again at this year’s New Orleans Burlesque Festival, where she will participate in panel discussions and sign autographs. I asked Cherry for her opinion about the current boom in modern burlesque.  “There are girls out there who are bringing back the classic style and I’m excited about that,” Cherry said. “There are troupes all over doing that now, thank God. But I’m dead set against most of the new Bourbon Street. So many girls just go on stage and stroll around begging for money. Most of them don’t even dance, and some of them may be good at working the pole, but soliciting money has no part in burlesque.”

According to Cherry, burlesque isn’t the only thing that she has seen change over the years. She was known for being “scrappy” and argumentative, and admittedly used to go looking for fights some nights as an outlet for her rage. “I don’t go looking for trouble like I used to. People who knew me before would definitely think I’ve mellowed out over the years,” Cherry said. She may be calmer these days, but the old Cherry is still in there, and is known to make an appearance from time to time, much to the chagrin of her family. “I haven’t been in a good fight in years, but I wouldn’t back down from one even today, doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. A few years ago I embarrassed my granddaughter in Wal-Mart because I was threatened by two young women and I said, ‘Let’s take it outside.’ Of course, the girls backed down.”

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