Checking in with Chaka Khan

Firing back: since 1999, the Chaka Khan Foundation has raised more than $1.4 million for autism research.

The legendary R&B dance diva storms into town to star in a benefit for the new Legacy center.

When you’re Chaka Khan, time is precious. It’s not the tick of the mortal clock, mind you. For Khan, though 57, is ageless. Her speaking voice rasps with a pleasant, husky history—sexual as it is sophisticated—but the pitch and energy of it, the truly thrilling pleasure of that voice…hearing Khan simply speak makes it deliriously easy to time machine back to the first time you heard her, when she blazed onto the music scene with the band Rufus, chart-topping with one of the first great funk songs of the century. Since that time, Khan has surpassed diva status and become legitimate legend, with Grammy-adorned walls, dance floor institutions in her concert repertoire, an exhausting touring schedule, heartfelt philanthropy, Broadway star turns, even vocal stints on hit animated series.

Before her sure-to-be stellar performance for the swanky benefit Legacy Cabaret for a Cure, Ms. Khan spends some time with OutSmart.

“Tell Me Something Good”? Indeed.

From what her typical day is like to the truth about how she met one of her most important collaborators, Prince, she does just that.

It’s Christmas Eve. I’ll make this fast. What’s a typical Chaka Khan day like?

Usually rushing to catch a plane. Or up in the air. Or just landing. That’s the most typical.

Do you loathe flying, or does it not bother you? [Laughs] Oh, I hate to fly. I loathe flying.

Most of your canon is richly romantic. Who was your one true love?

You mean personally?

Yes. [Pause] It would have to be my boyfriend who died. He was my favorite. And that’s all I’m going to say about it.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to get too personal.

No, it’s…he was a brilliant guy.

So when’s the last time you were in Texas?

I can’t recall. But I think probably early this year.

You’re in California now. Is that home for you?

Yes. Here and London.

Do you remember where you were when you first heard your first hit with Rufus, “Tell Me Something Good”?

I was in a car. I think so.
Prince was a pivotal collaborator with you. How did you two actually meet?

Oh god, there’s a story. [Laughs] I was in San Francisco and I was hanging out with a friend of mine, a group of friends in Nob Hill. And I was hanging out with this guy who said he was good friends with Sly [of The Family Stone]. Then I got a call, and the guy on the other end of the line said he was Sly. And I was hanging out with some good friends of Sly. And he says, “I’m up here in Marin County at a studio. Why don’t you come over here and we’ll put down some stuff?” I thought, Well, this is Sly, so why not? I had my guitar, so I got up and drove to the studio. I go in, and there’s nobody in the studio except some guy…playing a guitar. And I look at him like, “Where’s Sly?” And he said, “Oh, that was me that was calling you.” And I said, “Well, who the hell are you?” And he told me who he was then, and that’s how our friendship began.

That’s so awesome. [Laughs] Thank you.

She Feels for You

Chaka Khan headlines Legacy Community Health Services’ Cabaret for a Cure

With construction well underway for its new Montrose-based facility at 1415 California Street, Legacy Community Health Services presents one of the most opulent events on Houston’s social fundraising calendar: Cabaret for a Cure.

Kimberly and Frank DeLape, Brian H. Teichman, and Imperial Sugar’s John C. Sheptor are the honorees at the fourth cabaret event, held annually to raise funds for Legacy Community Health Services. Local television personality Deborah Duncan emcees the evening that is headlined by Grammy Award-winning vocalist Chaka Khan.

A 10-time Grammy Award-winner, Khan has been a staple of the international music scene since the early 1970s. Fresh from her Broadway debut playing Sofia in The Color Purple, her most recent album, Funk This, won Best R&B Album at the 2008 Grammy Awards, with the album’s hit single, “Disrespectful,” a duet featuring Mary J. Blige, winning the statue for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Cabaret for a Cure also features performances by cabaret singers and musicians from Houston, New York, and Los Angeles, including Sheryl Lee Ralph, Mary Griffin, Riff Raff, Todd Honeycutt, and Tye Blue, with dancing to the Richard Brown Orchestra.

Tickets for the black-tie affair start at $500, with “Tropicana” tables for 10 guests available for $25,000. January 15, 6 p.m. cocktails and silent auction, with dinner and entertainment at 7:30 p.m. followed by dancing. Hilton Americas-Houston, 1600 Lamar St. • —Nancy Ford


Ste7en Foster

Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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