Bryon Cherry '04 came to Carroll with dreams of becoming a journalist but - in true liberal arts fashion - discovered political science and a talent for music along the way. In his sophomore year, he experienced the sounds of live guitar for the first time when his roommate played The Beatles' "Blackbird." He soon explored his own talents for guitar as a student at Carroll and developed his skills down a path that led him this year to being named best R&B/Soul Artist of the year during the 2021 Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Awards, held on Oct. 17.
Here, Bryon shares more about his musical journey from his student days, when he also picked up a lead role during his first-ever theater experience performing in "Hair" to today, when his talents also extend to being a published poet as well. His latest book title, Funeral Journey, was released by The Quail Press in 2019. In addition to playing music, he is also a playful dad to two children he is raising with his wife and fellow Carroll graduate Darcy DuBois '03. Learn more about Bryon and his music — which he performs as Bryan Cherry — via his website.
What first brought you to Carroll to study political science?
I actually came to Carroll to study journalism. I had been an editor on my high school paper and enjoyed writing. I thought I was on my way to the University of Miami in Florida but I happened to have a track meet at Carroll and I first fell in love with the campus and started researching it. Once there I took an elective political science course my freshman year and quickly moved toward that direction.
What did you hope to do with a political science degree?
It’s funny to think about now, but I eventually wanted to run for some type of public office. After I graduated from Carroll, I ended up working for campaigns in the area.
How did you discover your talent and passion for playing music?
One of my roommates happened to play the guitar and one day, he played “Blackbird” by The Beatles. When he finished, I said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you are doing but you have to show me how to do that.” From there, I played in every quiet corner of nearly every dorm at Carroll. Through that, I connected with other people that loved music and I absorbed knowledge from them.
What was it about The Beatles’ "Blackbird" that sparked a musical interest at Carroll that helped you grow to the performer you are today?
Looking back, I think there was something about the beautiful guitar part, the haunting melody and moving lyrics that just flipped a switch inside of me. It was so long ago but I can still remember that moment with clarity.
In hindsight, was there any indication in your childhood that you had a talent for music, even though you never played before coming to Carroll?
Well, I always loved music and when I was younger I been told that I would make up songs to instrumental video game music, which is super funny, but I never really saw someone play a guitar in real life until I made it to Carroll.
How did landing a lead role in "Hair" at Carroll help you to further develop your musical talents?
Landing the part in “Hair” really changed my trajectory. It was my first real time on a stage of any type in front of an audience. It allowed me to work with a vocal coach which helped me tremendously, and I got to work with other students who were passionate about performing and music. Overall, it just gave me a boost of confidence because it showed me that I could handle a lead role and flourish.
How did those music and performing skills continue to evolve after graduation?
After graduation, I worked for campaigns during the day and worked on music late into the night because I loved it so much. I started playing open mics around the city and I met some amazing people. Eventually I met the members of my band, some of whom I still play with and learn from, to this day.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Well, The Beatles precede any other music for me but I also gain inspiration from Bill Withers, Thelonious Monk, Hank Williams Sr., Stevie Wonder, Nirvana, St. Vincent and Ray LaMontagne to name a few.
How would you describe your style of music?
I would say that I play rock and soul music. It’s a passionate blend of the two forms of music.
What inspires you in writing your lyrics and songs?
Life, inspires the lyrics. It’s really a way for me to process my life as it happens. Or I’ll hear someone say something interesting that makes me think and I’ll try to incorporate it into a song. So, in a weird way, songwriting is like collage art.
How did your writing transition into poetry?
I actually wrote poetry, or at least tried to, since I was like six years old. That’s because my mom is a writer and I would always find her poems around the house and it got me interested. I did not show my poetry to many people until about four years ago. From there I’ve been able to read at places like the New York City Poetry Festival, The Jazz Estate and Woodland Pattern here in Milwaukee.
What type of impact to you think being named best R&B/Soul Artist by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry will have on your music career?
It’s only been a week since winning so far but already I’ve had some new opportunities arise. I think the main thing is that this gives me another boost of confidence to go even deeper into, what is really, my hopefully lifetime practice of making noise with instruments and playing around with words.
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you might want to add or that would be important to understanding your journey from Carroll to the stage?
Even though I didn’t read my poems to many people at the time, I did read one time at a poetry open mic which was at the coffee shop in the library at Carroll. I also started a student run periodical called Amorphous at Carroll. Overall, there were just many opportunities to be creative, flexible in your thinking, and to learn from your peers. All of which have been critical skills in developing both my poetry and music acumen.