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Born in Greenville, South Carolina, John Cheek grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina and attended the North Carolina School for the Arts. It was there that Cheek first studied voice, and after graduating he furthered his studies in Siena, Italy and at the Manhattan School of Music. He made his Metropolitan Opera début in 1977 and has been a member of that company ever since, singing many of the leading bass-baritone rôles in Don Giovanni, La Bohème, Die Zauberflöte, Le nozze di Figaro, Così fan tutte, Aida, Pelléas et Mélisande, Faust and La clemenza di Tito. Overall, has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in more than 360 performances.

He has appeared with almost all of the major orchestras in North America, in an astounding variety of oratorios and symphonic works, and has sung repeatedly with such distinguished conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Davis, Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, Erich Leinsdorf, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Leonard Slatkin and Sir Georg Solti. He also appears regularly in recital and, on two notable occasions, his pianist-collaborator was James Levine in New York and again at the Ravinia Festival. He has also been recognised as a star bass in such European centres as London, Paris, Berlin, Salzburg, Stuttgart and Zurich. His versatility reflects a repertoire encompassing an enormous variety of music from the Baroque era to many world premières by composers such as Sir Michael Tippett and Ned Rorem.

His recordings include Stravinsky's Renard with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra and Bernstein's Songfest with the St Louis Symphony, The Rake's Progress with the Orchestra of St Luke's, Dvorák's Stabat Mater with the New Jersey Symphony, Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, and Haydn's Creation with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus.

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