Like Aretha, Cher and Whitney, Chaka Khan is in that rare company of performers who can go just by their first names.
But unlike those performers, Chaka has never gained a reputation as a diva among her fans. She is “everybody’s girl,” the sort of person that everyone wants to hang out with.
At 61, after 41 years in the music business, she seems to be at a point in her life where she doesn’t want to waste time on people and things that don’t make sense. Instead she wants to lift up others through her music and charitable works.
The singer has not shied away from discussion about her own struggle with addiction and the steps she had to take to get back to what she calls “my original life.” Years of abusing her body with substances and food took their toll. Three years ago she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and went on another quest.
“I had gained weight for 10 to 15 years; food became my friend,” she said.
She adopted a vegan lifestyle and used a VitaMix to shed 75 pounds. “It is good to be back to myself. It is very hard to maintain that lifestyle because I don’t have a cook on the road, but I do maintain clean eating and occasionally have some fish.”
She was painfully reminded of her own struggles when Whitney Houston died in February 2012. They had a long personal and professional relationship. At the tender age of 15, Houston sang background vocals on Khan’s 1978 hit I’m Every Woman (written by Ashford & Simpson). Khan returned the favor in 1992 when Houston recorded the song for her Grammy-winning film soundtrack The Bodyguard.
Khan did a number of interviews criticizing the music industry and the machinery of stardom that contributed to Houston’s death. She talked about the measures she takes to maintain her health and sobriety and said that Whitney — as fragile as she was — never should have been put in a situation where she was at risk.
She was pointedly critical of Clive Davis, head of Arista Records, and his decision to forge ahead with his Grammy pre-party in the same hotel hours after Houston died.
Is this saga doomed to repeat itself with this new crop of young stars borne out of shows such as American Idol and The Voice?
“There are a lot of shenanigans going on. The people that are in control are frustrated musicians and singers themselves. What can you do? You can educate, you can say, ‘I won’t be a part of it, because ...’ but young people are headstrong and have to run through their experience.”
After years of collaborations and singing the songs of other musical legends including Stevie Wonder ( Tell Me Something Good), Prince ( I Feel for You) and David Foster, who wrote Through the Fire with her in mind, is there anyone she would like to work with?
“I would have loved to work with Marvin Gaye or Miles Davis. Prince and I are still kicking some ideas around, and I would love to work with Joe Walsh — the old rockers.”