At age twelve, after listening to the album La Callas a Paris, decided that he wanted to be a singer of Opera and began singing in his hometown lessons. He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory, near Cleveland, Ohio. His family moved to Tennessee, he continued his studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He drew the attention of Leonard Bernstein, who offered him a scholarship for three summers at Tanglewood (1975 to 1977) Berkshire Music Center, where he studied with Phyllis Curtin. He made his debut at the Tanglewood Festival in 1976 with the passion according to san Mateo de Bach with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Seiji Ozawa, who invited her to a series of concerts with the BSO at Symphony Hall during the 1978-1979 season. In the summer of 1979, marched to the Schubert Institute in Baden bei Wien, Austria, where he continued a course for foreign students of the art of the German Lied. Among his teachers this summer were Irmgard Seefried, Brigitte Fassbaender and Hans Hotter.
The great baritone persuaded Cheryl Studer to stay in Europe the rest of the year and study with him at the Hochschule fur Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna. After a year in Vienna, and at the request of Hans Hotter, Cheryl Studer auditioned for Wolfgang Sawallisch who hired her as a permanent member of the Bavarian State Opera, where he stayed for two consecutive seasons. At the end of the 1981-82 season, he left Munich and joined the State Theater of Darmstadt for two seasons before going to Berlin to join the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons. His first major role was Violetta in La Traviata as a guest artist Braunschweig State Theatre in the spring of 1983. He debuted in the United States with the role of Micaela (Carmen) in 1984 with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and won international renown with his portrayal of Elisabeth in Tannhauser at the Bayreuth Festival of 1985 under the direction of Giuseppe Sinopoli which returned in 1986-87-88 as Elsa de Lohengrin in the production of Werner Herzog in 1989 and 1990.