TIR 102: Bernadette Cooper Tells How Klymaxx Took It to the Max

Bernadette Cooper pictured second from right.


Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 102 (2 parts): Musician-composer-producer Bernadette Cooper, founder of the most successful all-female funk-R&B band of all time — Klymaxx. Signed to Solar Records in 1980, the group released six albums between 1981 and 1994, although Cooper left after the first four. A seventh album, Girls in the Band, was intended for 1983 release but was held back as the band switched from Solar to MCA Records. Other Klymaxx band members included Lorena Shelby, Cheryl Cooley, who has also been featured on TRUTH IN RHYTHM, Robbin Grider, Lynn Malsby and Joyce “Fenderella” Irby. It was their third album, 1984’s Meeting in the Ladies Room, that sent them into the stratosphere. In addition to the funky hit title track, that album also included another floor-burner in The Men All Pause and the great ballad I Miss You, which became a pop crossover smash. The platinum-certified set went top 10 on the R&B chart and top 20 pop.

The group had the benefit of working with legendary producers, musicians and songwriters that included Steve Shockley, Otis Stokes and other members of labelmates Lakeside, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of Morris Day & the Time, and Midnight Star’s Reggie and Vincent Calloway. Other notable songs and hits from Klymaxx’s Cooper era include Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman, All Fired Up, Wild Girls, Girls Will Be Girls, Heartbreaker (I’m Such a Mess), Multi-Purpose Girl, The Man in My Life, All Turned Out, Sexy, I’d Still Say Yes, Man Size Love and Divas Need Love Too.

In the mid-1980s, Klymaxx became ubiquitous on the radio, in the clubs and on TV with music videos and in-person appearances. These were fierce women blazing a trail no one else had by playing their own instruments, exhibiting confidence and style to spare, and producing a stream of catchy funk, R&B and pop. In all, they notched seven top 20 R&B hits and three top 20 pop. However, by 1986 things were beginning to fracture within the ranks and Cooper flew the coop. Her first post-Klymaxx project out of the gate was almost as successful. She put together a three-woman singing group called Madame X, producing, composing and playing much of the music on their self-titled 1987 album that included the sultry hit Just That Type of Girl. The sexy and seductive album, which unfortunately would be the only one for Madame X, also included I’m Weak for You and some other electro-funk winners.

Cooper resurfaced in 1990 with her sterling solo debut, Drama According to Bernadette Cooper. Also featuring Chuckii Booker, Teena Marie, Amp Fiddler and an uncredited Lenny Kravitz, the set was an outstanding effort packed with superlative funk embellished with modern nuances. It got lost in the corporate music shuffle, but is highly recommended. Coincidentally, 1990 was the same year that saw the first release using the Klymaxx name that did not include Cooper — and it showed as it did not approach the Drama LP. The last Klymaxx studio album dropped in 1994 and featured Cooper on one song, 4 the Ole Dawg N U. She otherwise had no involvement in that project. Cooper was then absent from the music industry for the century and well into the next. She pursued other interests including the retail clothing business and writing novels, until returning to the stage as Klymaxx Featuring Bernadette Cooper, which is one of at least three touring versions of the band that also include lineups led by Irby and Cooley. In 2015, Cooper released Last Diva on Earth Episode 1: Planet Sexy, which tosses out several Klymaxx tropes. The group’s legacy continues to resonate not only musically but also culturally as evident by recent Saturday Night Live parodies.

Here, Cooper shows she still has attitude and moxie to spare, just as she did decades ago as the personality behind Klymaxx’s sassy persona. She addresses every aspect of the group’s herstory and discusses what comes next. Note that she elected to appear off camera.