Cherilyn Sarkisian was born in California in 1946; she was 17 when she first met Salvatore "Sonny" Bono, a songwriter and protégé of producer Phil Spector. Bono brought her to Spector, who used her as a backup singer and produced one single by her, a novelty Beatles tribute record called "Ringo I Love You" issued under the name Bonnie Jo Mason. It disappeared without a trace, but the couple were undaunted -- they emerged as a duo, initially called Caesar & Cleo, later that year, and cut "The Letter," "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Love Is Strange."
Caesar & Cleo didn't trouble the chart compilers with any degree of success, but late in 1964, Cher (then known as Cherilyn) was signed to Liberty Records' Imperial imprint, and Bono came along as producer. A Spector-ish version of "Dream Baby" managed to get airplay in Los Angeles, becoming a local hit, and they suspected they were onto something. That same month, Sonny & Cher, as they were now known, signed to Reprise Records and released their first single, "Baby Don't Go." The song became a major local hit in Los Angeles, after which the duo jumped from Reprise to the Atco label, a division of Atlantic Records. In April 1965 their first single, "Just You" was released and rose to number 20 on the charts. The duo was on its way, and Cher also had Imperial Records after her for a second single. The couple had seen the Byrds pioneer commercial folk-rock with Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," and had witnessed them performing another Dylan number, "All I Really Want to Do" at a club in Los Angeles. The group intended to issue their own recording of "All I Really Want to Do," but Cher, with Sonny producing, beat them to the punch with her own recording of the song.
She pursued a dual career for the next two years, cutting solo recordings under Sonny's guidance that regularly charted, and duets with her husband for Atco. A month after "All I Really Want to Do," they released "I Got You Babe," which was one of the biggest-selling and most beloved pop/rock hits of the mid-'60s, and the couple's signature tune across two eras of success. Cher's solo career ended up slightly overshadowed by her work with Sonny & Cher, but at the time she was fully competitive on her own terms -- her first LP reached the Billboard Top 20 and was on the albums charts for six months. "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" was another hit, a million-seller that made number three in America and England, and she made the Top Ten once more with her 1967 single "You Better Sit Down Kids." The latter song, written by Bono (and which was also a hit for Glen Campbell), dealt with divorce, an unusual subject for a 1960s pop record, and was one of a series of releases on which Cher's music broached difficult areas -- others were "I Feel Something's in the Air," which dealt with unwanted pregnancy, and "Mama (When My Dollies Have Babies)," both written by Bono.