Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Chaka Khan: Diva Unique

Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan Chaka Khan Chaka Khan Chaka Khan Chaka Khan Chaka Khan

“Music saved my life.” A statement guaranteed to grab my attention during an interview, but on this occasion the person making this dramatic revelation has my full and undivided attention in any case.

Global icon Chaka Khan is speaking to me from her L.A. home. She is coming to the UK for a special show on 14th September to help raise money for six different charities, as part of DJ Norman Jay’s first "Good Times In The Park" festival in West London.

So on the subject of music being her saviour, in the context of Chaka’s past battle with drug and alcohol dependence - Chaka has been clean and sober for a good few years now.

“This is my calling. This is not just my job. If I weren’t singing, I’d be in really bad shape and causing a lot of trouble somewhere. Yeah. It’s what I have been called to do.”

So does she feel music saved her? “Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely it saved me. Because I would have done worse had it not been for music. Music is my personal something to live for.”

Her drug use included cocaine and heroin, but ended in the early 1990s. She got sober from alcohol in 2005. A year later her son Damien Holland was accused of murder after 17-year-old Christopher Bailey was shot to death. Khan testified on her son's behalf defending her son's innocence. Holland was found not guilty. Since then, Chaka has become the legal guardian of her son’s child.

Born Yvette Marie Stevens in 1953 in Chicago, Illinois and raised in the rough South Side housing projects, the eldest of five children. She has released 22 albums and racked up ten number one Billboard songs, seven gold singles and ten gold and platinum albums. Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin has said: “"Chaka is a one of a kind, premier vocalist." Amen to that.

On clocking up four decades in her career: “It doesn’t feel like 40 years to be honest. How do you sustain it? I get a lot of rest. I have to get my beauty sleep. I now live a healthy life and I eat healthily. You just have to take some personal care."

“For most people going to your show, they are there to have some fun but you are there to do something serious. You can’t party with them, you have to go do your serious calling, and then you got to go get your rest for the next one. It’s all about sensible living and discipline.”

Chaka Khan has won 10 Grammies, had 22 Grammy nominations and sold at least 70 million records. So is being that successful ever a pressure?

“No, because I am not singing or doing what I am doing for Grammies. I am doing what I am doing because I have to. I love to communicate with people; I love people. It’s nice to have all those Grammies - my Mother loves them and I let her keep them in her house - all my awards. She is crazy about them. I am grateful, honestly. But it is not what drives me.”

As a mark of her status, Chaka was given her own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in 2011 (the 2,440th star), with old friend Stevie Wonder there for the ceremony. She also had a street named after her in Chicago. “That is really big for a city like Chicago, to name a street after a black person, other than Martin Luther King. That’s really, really big. That felt like a major accomplishment.”

“I am happy about it, and it is beautiful to me, but it is just not my motivation, do you know what I mean? I am grateful, but to be honest; I am not motivated by that. This is a calling….”

No matter how heady the heights of her career, she has always tried to remain grounded, and the early words of advice from her Father have stayed with her. “The best advice I have ever been given was by my Dad, when we first saw my name in lights at the Whisky a Go Go. He said to me; Yvette, stay humble. I was humble anyway; he didn’t have to say it to me. I’m not a flamboyant kind of person anyway. But I live by that advice.”

Six months ago, Chaka sold her house in London, where she has lived for 30 years, and moved back to the USA. We discuss her future plans, and she reveals there is new music coming soon. Chaka is back in the studio in October to cut tracks for a new solo album, due for release next year, her first since 2007’s, “Funk This.” But Chaka has been recording on other (unnamed) artist’s projects this year, including with a UK DJ.

Now 61, she tells me she has a five year plan to improve her life. “I have a five year stint to kick ass and develop a lot of income opportunities for myself, so that I can just sing when I feel like it. So I can be happy and still answer my calling, but have a better quality of life.”

TWITTER: @ChakaKhan

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