When the all-female R&B pop band Klymaxx is inducted into the inaugural Women Songwriters Hall of Fame on Friday (June 25) in Washington, D.C., three of the band’s original members — including its founder — say the honor will be given to a touring band led by their former guitarist, who is claiming credit for songs she did not write.
Drummer, vocalist and producer Bernadette Cooper, who formed Klymaxx in 1979, keyboardist Lynn Malsby and lead singer Lorena “Lungs” Stewart (formerly Lorena Porter Shelby) tell Billboard that the WSHoF — which has no connection to the long-established Songwriters Hall of Fame — has ignored their warnings that it is inducting a version of the group led by former guitarist Cheryl Cooley, whose songwriting contributions were minor. They allege Cooley has attempted to alter that reality by adding her name to the writing credits or taking sole writer credit in ASCAP’s database.
“Cheryl wrote minimally and none of the hits,” says Cooper. “Presenting herself as Klymaxx for, of all things, a songwriting award would be laughable if it weren’t just plain fraudulent, and she knows that.” Adds Cooper: “She’s crossed the line.”
Cooley did not respond to emails and voicemails asking her to comment for this story. This story will be updated if she contacts Billboard following publication.
From 1985 to 1987, Klymaxx scored five Billboard Hot 100 hits, including “I Miss You,” which hit No. 5 on the chart; “Meeting in the Ladies Room”; and “Man Size Love.” By late 1988, Cooper, Malsby and bassist, vocalist and producer Joyce “Fenderella” Irby had left the band, leaving Cooley, Stewart and keyboardist Robbin Grider to record the group’s last album, The Maxx Is Back, which was released in 1990.
In the early 2000s, Cooley fell out with her former bandmates when she unsuccessfully attempted to register the Klymaxx trademark for her sole usage — beef that was touched upon in a 2004 VH1 Bands Reunited episode. The Truth in Music Advertising Act allows original members of a band to tour using the band’s trademark if the individual’s name is also billed — such as Klymaxx featuring Cheryl Cooley — but Cooper alleges Cooley has not abided by that legislation. (Cooper and Irby also perform live using the “Klymaxx featuring” tag.)
More recently, Cooper and Malsby allege that Cooley has managed more than once to change songwriting credits and publishing shares in ASCAP’s database, including those of Sony Music Publishing, which administers the original band’s publishing.
Cooper and Malsby shared photographs of labels from their original albums and singles, which do not credit Cooley, and screenshots from the ASCAP Repertory Search database of those same songs that list her as the writer and The Klymaxx Corporation as publisher, including “The Men All Pause,” “Meeting in the Ladies Room,” “Girls Will Be Girls” and “Man Size Love.” The songwriters of the latter two tracks were not members of the band but Otis Stokes and Rod Temperton, respectively.
They also shared correspondence with ASCAP and Sony Music Publishing in which they and other original members of the band sought to have the song credits corrected.
In an Aug. 7, 2020, email to Sony Music Publishing associate director of North American copyright administration Jen Gobeille, Irby forwarded a screenshot of songs, writing: “Cheryl Cooley did not write any part of and owns no publishing on these songs.” She added, “ASCAP needs to get on its job. Not only has Cooley stolen large parts of my, Lynn and Bernadette’s shares, but she has removed the names of other legitimate cowriters. ASCAP has also failed to list the ‘submitter’ in the ‘Details’ section, which would of course point directly back to Cheryl Cooley, or those acting on her behalf.”
After the credits were corrected, Malsby emailed Gobeille on June 2, noting that Cooley “for the second time in 18 months has gone into the listings at ASCAP and changed songwriters credits AND changed publishing credits on most, if not all of our old material — some of which still gets airplay, most of which she had no involvement whatsoever in writing initially.”
In a June 8 email, ASCAP Global Copyright Team Leader – Repertory Zach Horwitz responded, “I spoke with Ms. Cooley’s representative last week and advised that no further registrations should be submitted to ASCAP without proper documentation.”
Asked to respond, an ASCAP representative said the performance rights organization does not comment on matters between members. At publication time, a rep for Sony Music Publishing had not responded to emails requesting comment.
Sources familiar with ASCAP protocols say that when a song is re-registered with new information occurs, the PRO typically contacts all parties to ensure that they agree on the change. Cooper and Malsby say, however, that they were never contacted regarding any of the above changes. When disputes arise over credits, ASCAP does not get involved but lets the interested parties work it out among themselves. Changes are made once a settlement is reached.
Cooper and her other bandmates first learned of the Women Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony — which is slated to be hosted by Jody Watley at Washington’s National Museum of Women in the Arts — when Billboard published a story indicating that the band was among the honorees. (Roberta Flack, Valerie Simpson, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Deniece Williams are also among the inductees, according to a press statement issued by the organization.)
When Malsby emailed the organization on behalf of the original members seeking more information about the induction ceremony, she received no response. But while combing the WSH0F website, they saw that a photo of Cooley’s Klymaxx lineup was used with the band’s bio. They asked for the photo to be replaced with a picture of the original group. It was, but a button to browse Klymaxx’s song catalog links to Cooley’s Klymaxx website.
Despite providing documentation of their songwriting credit dispute with Cooley to the hall of fame and trading emails with WSHoF founder/chairman/CEO Janice McLean DeLoatch, Cooper and Malsby say DeLoatch never reached out to them. They add that they are under the impression that Cooley’s band will still be inducted. DeLoatch did not respond to emails requesting comment for this story.
“After we had given them receipts, the final word from the hall of fame was, ‘If you guys decide you’re going to come, we’ll let everyone know you’re in the audience,’” says Stewart.
Cooper says she, Grider, Irby, Malsby and Stewart will not attend the induction ceremony. She also says that though they will continue to police their songwriting credits and publishing shares, they do not plan to sue Cooley because the legal fees would outweigh any royalties they may have lost.
They did issue a joint statement, which says, in part, that as a band of young women who “grew into successful songwriters that produced their own music” Klymaxx’s members were “trailblazers” who inspired young girls who saw their own image and likeness playing instruments in this still male-dominated industry.” The statement concludes: “A proper acknowledgment would have been heartwarming.”