Chaka Khan is known as the Queen of Funk, but the 10-time Grammy-winning singer of such pop-R&B anthems as “Ain’t Nobody,” “I Feel For You” and “I’m Every Woman” finds that label awfully limiting.
“I’m honored,” said Khan, whose vast repertoire dips into styles as diverse as jazz, pop, rock, funk, gospel, dance and even country and classical. “But I’m so musically eclectic that it just doesn’t cover it for me [laughs]. I mean, I’m proud, and I’m thankful and all that, you know. But here’s a person who all my musical life, I’ve hated being boxed in. And what do I get? [Laughs] Boxed in. So, it is what it is.”
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Khan, who began her career in 1972 as the 18-year-old lead singer for the funk band Rufus (“Tell Me Something Good”) before spreading her wings as a solo artist, will command the stage Friday night at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night.
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Fans can expect a concert spanning Khan’s entire career, serving up most, but not all, of the hits (“That would take me several days,” she said). Khan – who has collaborated with dozens upon dozens of artists, including Prince (he wrote “I Feel For You”), Stevie Wonder (he wrote “Tell Me Something Good” specifically for Khan and played the impossibly high harmonica solo on “I Feel For You”), Ray Charles, Steve Winwood, Quincy Jones, Mary J. Blige, Bruce Hornsby and even Coolio – also implied that there might be a special guest or two.
“At one of my shows, who knows who’s gonna be there?” she said. “We’re hoping that most people will go home satisfied.”
In 2013, Khan’s hometown of Chicago renamed the street where her high school sits as Chaka Khan Way, an honor she called “almost an unachievable thing in that city, for a black person. That means a lot more to me than the 10 Grammys.”
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It all might never have come to pass. For someone who found such stunning success at an early age, Khan – who cites the jazz artists that her father loved, such as Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Stan Getz, as early musical influences – says being a professional singer didn’t cross her mind until, well, it actually happened.
“I was like every child, who wanted to be a veterinarian one day, a fireman the next, a teacher – you know,” she recalled. “I went through those phases, too. I guess [I got serious] at about 19 or 20, when I started making money, and it became my job.”
And it’s still a job. Although singing has brought Khan immense joy, satisfaction, fame, glory and riches, she makes it clear it’s not all thrills, all the time.
Asked what inspired 30 artists over the years to cover the song “Ain’t Nobody,” Khan got candidly real:
“I don’t know – it’s a great song. It must have a little of everything, a story for so many people to feel as strongly about it as they do. I’m happy that they do, because it’s one of the few songs I still like singing.”
Which raises the question: How does Khan get up for singing some of the songs she’s simply tired of performing?
“I can’t get it up for all of them, honestly, but the crowd helps,” she said. “The fact that they want to hear it is the impetus. I’m there to please, so …”
For many fans, it’s impossible to hear the name Chaka Khan without mentally launching into the famous rap by Grandmaster Melle Mel on “I Feel For You” that starts off, “Chaka Khan, let me rock you, let me rock you, Chaka Khan/Let me rock you, that’s all I wanna do.”
But she says she had nothing to do with that rhyme; in fact, it wasn’t even her idea to include it in the song.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “I can’t take the credit for that. It was a stroke of genius that belongs to Arif Mardin, my producer at the time, who is no longer with us.”
As for Prince, who died much too young at age 57 on April 21, Khan said, simply: “We were very close, and I miss him very, very much. You know, when your time comes, your time comes.”
IF YOU GO
What: Chaka Khan
When: 8 p.m. Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org; $45-$125; and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-832-7469 or www.kravis.org; $25-$115