The Godmothers of Pop – Chaka Khan interview
Chicago-born Yvette Marie Stevens joined funk group Rufus in the early-70s, changed her name and inspired Stevie Wonder to write a song for her. Five decades later Chaka Khan’s imperious vocals have helped shift more than 70 million records. After her friend Prince passed away in 2016 Chaka entered rehab to battle prescription drug addiction. Now she’s back wowing UK audiences throughout the summer.
How does it feel to be spending much of the summer in the UK?
Yes, I’m doing outdoor concerts. I like it here, I lived in the UK once, a lot of people don’t know that, but I only sold my house in England just last year. So it’s like a second home to me, I lived in West Hampstead. Hopefully I’ll be back, but I don’t miss the food. I like the people, intelligent people who still read books like I do.
Musically you are labelled many things − funk, R&B, soul. Which do you prefer?
I love rock, jazz, R&B. In the UK they call me a pop singer and that’s a beautiful thing, that’s what I really am. That fits my description anyway.
What can fans expect from your 2017 concerts?
We got a good show now, we start out with Rufus songs, go chronologically − half the set is Rufus and the other half is my old stuff. We do it pretty good, it really works. People can go home happy, knowing they’ve heard at least one song they like.
It’s 10 years since your last studio album, Funk This. What’s next?
I’m working on my Joni Mitchell CD, where I’ve chosen my favourite songs of hers, added some hot sauce and some pepper to them. Her music has helped me over the years. I produced it myself with Eve Nelson; she is the one who produced the Classic Khan album. I can’t talk about the record yet, there’s some vocals still to come.
You did a great version of Sign O’ The Times on your last album, any more Prince songs planned?
I have in mind to do a live show based on Prince’s stuff, that will be down the road a little. It won’t happen for while. I own half an album that we did together at my house so we will be doing that probably next year. Prince and I were great friends. He was wonderful and left us so much to enjoy.
You entered rehab last year, how is life now?
I have no regrets and wouldn’t change a thing. I’m genuinely surprised I’m still here. It happened gradually for me, I just like myself. I happened to have achieved self love so I’ll fake it till I make it. Things are going very well, the theme of my show is ‘I Love Myself’ and that’s the theme of my entire life right now.
There have been so many career highlights, do you have a favourite period?
The 80s was a good time, I lived in New York then and had great times, parties.
Any current artists we might hear you sing with?
Yes, you know I’m doing something with a remixer named Slash, we’ve done six new songs, he’s from England. It’s for both of us.
You are revered for your vocal arrangements, it’s become a lost art. How do you view singers today?
I think people are less demanding from an artist, less demanding from what they do. People pay a big ticket price to see a singer just move their lips in sync to a track. That’s a pretty sad place to be. But I think Jazmine Sullivan and Lalah Hathaway are great.
Tell us about your new BBC TV talent show, Pitch Battle?
It’s a choir competition and it sounds like a pretty cool show. I go back in August for the final.
How has your voice changed over the years?
My voice has less vibrato now, when I listen to my songs with Rufus, to me, I sound like a bumblebee. But now I think it’s seasoned a lot and my voice has a lot more colours than it did back then.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received?
My father said to me ‘stay humble’, just those two words. That’s the best advice.
Any other projects besides music?
Maybe another book, I already had one book out, Through The Fire, but I’ve lived three lives since then. So we’re kicking it around, the idea of more