We consider ourselves pretty lucky to be surrounded by phenomenal women in the Women’s Voices community—from our readers to our contributors to our staff and our board. As we learn about the intricacies of these women’s lives, we see a common theme emerging: women who reinvent themselves over and over again.  We’ve decided to pay tribute to these women in our Women of Reinvention series, acknowledging that for each of them (and you), the concept of reinvention takes on very different and nuanced meanings, and is often redefined at various points in our lives. For some women, reinventing themselves is about survival; for others, it’s about new beginnings. For Cherokee Black, a former model who left the industry to take care of an ill sister and is now returning decades later, reinvention is “a regular occurrence” in her life. For her, “reinvention” means “to transform with grace.”

Cherokee Black will be the first to tell you she has lived an extraordinary life—and she still encounters extraordinary every day. She’s sung with Luther Vandross; she was a background-vocals singer for the legendary drummer “Buddy” Miles; she’s had a career as a fashion model, actress, magazine editor, and make-up stylist. As a child she was surrounded by women legendary in the entertainment world—women like jazz singer Ethel Waters, who was her mother’s godmother. Her heritage is also an eclectic one: Her mother is of Black and Cherokee ancestry and her father’s family comes from Cape Verde. In some way or another, she has always found herself center stage, in front of the camera, or helping others shine behind the scenes.

But that extraordinary life has come with many struggles and tragedies. As a fiftysomething, Cherokee just recently signed a modeling contract—returning to the industry after a hiatus of more than 20 years. Born and raised in New York City, she began modeling at 17, and continued until a series of casualties in her family forced her to step away from her modeling career and devote her time and energy to taking care of her loved ones.

“I got married at the young age of 20 to a man who had difficulty with fidelity,” says Cherokee. “And we all know how that turned out.”  Still, she kept believing that after every storm is a rainbow: “There will always be tests and roadblocks that will set you back. You just have to keep it moving.”  That rainbow turned out to be her son, Bazaar Royale (pictured to the right), her only child. Royale was heavily influenced by his mother’s career in show business and is now a noted musician himself and founder of “The Ghetto Metal Music Movement”–a fusion of hip-hop and rock. “We’re very close,” she says about her son. “I think we have the same kind of sensitivity about the world.”

Cherokee has had to rely on her faith and spirituality time and time again through several storms. Indeed, from 1981 to 1987 she weathered a series of  them. In 1981, she lost her mother (who was 48 at the time) to asthma. Four months later, her younger brother was murdered. He was 25. In 1982, her younger sister received a diagnosis of breast cancer at the age of 22. Her father died in 1983. And, in 1987, her sister received another blow—she suffered a debilitating stroke. She would need 24-hour care for the rest of her life.

With just herself and her sister left in the family, Cherokee settled down and dug deep. She walked away from her modeling career—which kept her frequently traveling  away from home in New York—to become her sister’s caretaker. She also took charge of her sister’s young son. Throughout those early caretaking years, she says, she learned a few significant lessons.  “I have always put other people first. I am a nurturer by nature, always taking care of other people. I had to learn to take my life back and not feel a sense of guilt because of it.” Her sister is now in an assisted-care home. And although Cherokee is still her sister’s number one source of support, she’s learned to seek out and accept the help she needs. “I can’t do it alone,” she says.

Cherokee Black on a photo shoot in Egypt in 1983; with Anthony Quinn in 1980.

Now she’s back in the game. A couple decades have gone by. The industry has changed. Cherokee has changed. She says she has a different perspective on being a model in her 50s than she did in her 20s. “Modeling, then, could be a horrendous world. It wasn’t always as glamorous as many people thought. The stuff that went on behind the scenes, and what you had to do to stay relevant, well, people didn’t really want to know about it. Now I’m being accepted for the way I look, for my natural gray hair, for the size 14 that I am, and for my age. I love it.”

It’s a given that Cherokee has had to reinvent herself a few times, sometimes by choice and at times by necessity. For her, reinvention is a natural part of life. “I find it is important to choose spiritual growth as you age and transform. Dwelling on beauty will only serve to make aging very sad. Reinvention is a regular occurrence for me. I reinvent in order to transform with grace.”

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  • Patricia L. Terrell September 17, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Reading this gave me a better understanding of how your name, Cherokee Black, came about. You have had a life filled with excellence. You have also endured so much, however, your beautiful persnality shows that you are resiliant against all odds. Modeling at 50-something? You go girl! Represent! I admire your strength and positive demeanor. May you have endless health, strength and happiness.

    Patsy

    Reply
  • sista sasy September 4, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    grand essay
    it unfolds you for us
    many of us our your fans
    now we know more
    continue to unfold and inspire
    thank you for doing what you are led to do
    blessings and power

    Reply
  • Andrea Taylor September 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    After reading the article, I immediatelly printed it and
    e-mailed it to a few of my friends. Who have been stuck in a rut for a long time. I was hoping that by sharing your inspirational journey and showing how you were able to overcome and reinvent yourself more then once,it would give them some sort of insight as to how to overcome there stagnation.
    I admire your love for life , and how you take advantage of every opportunity you are offered. You are amazing.
    You have indured some really tough times, and yet, it has just made you the beautiful person you are today. A person with so much to offer. My hat is off to you. Keep on reinventing yourself girl when ever you feel the need.

    love
    auntie

    Reply
  • Damali September 4, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Beautiful testimony and inspiration to anyone looking to go forward with their craft or a new creative endeavor. All the best to you Cherokee.

    Reply
  • Mary Cobb-Blumer September 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Vgido I am honored we are connected. I knew there was something special about you. Now I know!

    Utsati Adadoli Vgido
    (many blessings sister)
    Meli

    Reply
  • Elaina Deva Proffitt September 3, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Such a Beautiful Article about a most Beautiful Woman. Cherokee is an amazing woman not only talented, but also a a loving spirit filled with compassion and inspiration for so many despite the tests life brings to us. Beauty-Compassion and Bright Heart Light…Is Cherokee Black…I am blessed to call her Sister Friend!

    Reply
  • sojourna September 3, 2012 at 4:25 am

    This article is so spot on! Cherokee is such an awesome spirit. I can totally bear witness to her giving spirit and loving nature. And to top it all off…she is a true sister with an insane sense of humor. She will keep you laughing.

    Reply
  • Ginger Broderick September 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I love the article…and Ms. Cherokee Black!!…she is full of love, positive energy and inspriration…and a wonderful fellow tv producer…great choice in your selection of women to profile on your site…xo

    Reply
  • Darlene Sparks September 2, 2012 at 10:43 am

    What a wonderful story about a very beautiful lady! So encouraging and inspiring as she is to everyone!!! I feel privileged to know her!

    Reply
  • Bernice Canadate September 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you for this terrific (magnificent) article, beautifully written about a beautiful person. Cherokee is indeed a “Phenomenal Woman”.

    Reply
  • Carmen Mathis September 1, 2012 at 11:57 am

    How inspiring! Thank you for this article—so that more people can know about Cherokee. She is as beautiful inside as well as what we see, and indeed helps others shine! (Cherokee generously does my make-up for me on “The Carmen Mathis Show”. She is an inspiration to us all, each time she is among us. Love her–and thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • Jan Fornéy August 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I applaud this sister’s courage, integrity and honesty. She’s strong, focused and grateful for the challenges she’s faced and overcome. I love her as my friend, my sister and for the woman she is and support her as her journey continues. She inspires me to look at life with an open heart and clarity of purpose! I love you, Cherokee — now and forever!

    Reply
  • George Hocker August 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I too knew that Cherokee was a phenomenal woman the first time I made contact with her in Facebook. Her strong morals, beliefs, opinions, and faith are admirable and hard to hide. What I like most is her strong sense of family – which is evident by the article above. If I had to use one word to describe her, it would be: “Fantastic!” I am honored to know her.

    Reply
  • Fern I. Saul August 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Well, I don’t know what ageless uty is but I do know that Cherokee has ageless BEAUTY. Please forgive all the typos….(smiles)

    Reply
  • Fern I. Saul August 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    I knew Cherokee was a phenomenal woman the moment i spoke to her at thr Dr. Oz show where we were both guests on his show. Today I am not surprised by this article on her life as we have become very close friends. The article mentions her reinvention and I can vouch that in just a few years I have seen her reinvent many aspectas of her life. You go girl!
    One thing that needs not be touched at all is her ageless uty as you can see in all of her photos.
    A wonderful mother, grandmother, sister and friend I am now and always will be proud of you for not stopping.

    Reply