Friday, June 12, 2009

Where is Chaka Khan?

Just a happenstance glimpse at an album cover got it started.

I was just a wee little soulbrother then, still developing the exquisite taste and aplomb that would come to be my trademarks. My uncle and aunt were listening to a Rufus and Chaka Khan album when out of curiosity I decided to take a peek at the album cover.

And there she was staring right at me with those beautiful almond shaped Asiatic eyes, that cinnamon colored skin, and that hour glass shape. And I can’t forget those big, full juicy lips. That’s the stuff young boys’, especially budding young soulbrothers, fantasies are made of. Of course I recognized her amazing talent, but I was absolutely smitten by her looks and presence; I thought that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Just a little something follows to let you know what I’m talking about:

Of course, schoolboy crushes are fleeting, and after a while, I moved on. She did not come into my purview again until about 1984 when she released the platinum-selling album I Feel for You. By that time, she had won too many Grammys and other music awards to count, both with Rufus and as a solo artist. And this just serve to reignite the fire that burned within me for Chaka.

Since that time, I have followed her career on and off, but my admiration of her has not waned in the least bit. Recently, knowing how much I love Chaka, my wife bought me a greatest hits album and I realized I had not seen or heard from her in quite a while. So, of course, I set out to find what she is up to now.

Just an aside: Did you know Chaka sang the theme song for the children’s TV show Reading Rainbow in the show’s latter years? But I digress.

Today the label diva is too generously passed out. Of all the artists claiming the designation, only a few really deserve it and Chaka is right there at the top of that very short list. Over the course of her long career, she has lent her incredible vocal range to over seventy different albums. That’s an absolutely incredible oeuvre for any artist.

In addition, she has worked and performed with artists representing almost every musical genre from jazz to hip hop. In fact, Kanye West sampled her single “Through the Fire” for his album debut.

In the late nineties, she joined with Prince’s New Power Generation label to make or perform on a number of albums, most notably 1998’s Prince produced Come 2 My House which ultimately reached number 1 on Billboards R&B records chart.

In 2004, Berklee College of Music recognized her amazing talents and contributions by honoring her with an honorary doctorate degree.

Over the years, she has received a number of other tributes and honors as well. You’ve got to check out this tribute to Chaka Khan at the BET awards (I’m not sure of the year) featuring Prince, Stevie Wonder, India Irie, and Yolanda Adams embedded below. What is that she’s hiding under her skirt in the back? Is that Chaka or is she smuggling something?

Chaka’s musical journey has even taken her to the Broadway stage. One thing I’ll never forgive myself for is not seeing Chaka when she performed as Sofia in Oprah Winfrey’s A Color Purple. That is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and for whatever reason, I foolishly missed it.

As of late, Chaka still performs a bit here and there, gracing various summer concert series and musical festivals with her prestigious talents. Her latest studio album is 2007's Funk This. Produced mainly by hitmakers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the album featured a number of covers as well as original material. In addition, it received rave reviews and was only derided mainly for its dearth of funk as implied by the title.

Between performances and cameo appearances, Chaka lends the bulk of her time to her foundation, The Chaka Khan Foundation which she founded to assist battered women and women in need of receiving drug and alcohol treatment and/or services as well as those coping with HIV. In addition, she has lent her time and energy in support of the autism community.

Now, Chaka is a bit heavier than she was when I first glimpsed her. But that’s all good because a soulbrother’s tastes have evolved. And she is no less beautiful than she was those many years ago. She has left and continues to build an enduring legacy for those young women seeking to succeed in the musical industry.


Anonymous said...

"Tell Me Something Good" is my jam. Of all the Rufus cuts, it's my fav.

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