A GoPride Interview

Chaka Khan

She’s every woman: an interview with Chaka Khan

Fri. May 3, 2013  by Gregg Shapiro

I find my gay and lesbian followers to be the most un-fickle of all my followers.
Chaka Khan
The words icon and diva get tossed around a lot, but when it comes to Chaka Khan, she actually is an iconic diva worthy of being described as such. A music industry vet, Khan began more than 40 years ago as the voice of the group Rufus and then continued on with her remarkable solo career. With a vocal range that is legendary, Khan is often imitated, never duplicated (sorry Whitney). Her ability to stir up a range of emotions, from jubilant to seductive, is unsurpassed. A longtime supporter and ally of the LGBT community, Khan has been a familiar and welcome presence at a variety of queer causes for more years than most people can remember. On May 18, 2013, Khan headlines the Center on Halsted's Human First gala (www.centeronhalsted.org/hf) at the Hilton Towers Chicago. I had the pleasure of speaking with Chaka Khan in early May.

GS: Gregg Shapiro) Chaka, I'd like to begin by belatedly wishing you a happy birthday.

CK: Chaka Khan) Thank you. I appreciate that.

GS: I understand that you had quite a celebration – what can you tell me about it?

CK: I had quite a few celebrations. I had three birthday parties. I'm done. I'm so done with birthdays. Birthdays are for kids. It was sweet. It was nice. I'm just glad it's over [laughs].

GS: Will the updated version of your autobiography, Through the Fire include anything about the observance of this milestone birthday?

CK: Probably, because it's happened to me, yeah. I'm going to write about what's happened to me, so this will probably be included.

GS: What can you tell me about the status of the movie adaptation of Through the Fire?

CK: They are working on it.

GS: Who would you like to see portraying you in the movie version of Through The Fire?

CK: I don't know. I'm sure we'll go through some people. Look at faces and see who… who do you think should portray me? Do you have any thoughts on that?

GS: That all depends. Do you want an actress? Do you want a singer? Do you want a singer/actress? There are so many options.

CK: I think a singer/actress would do. Or an actress who could pantomime really well [laughs].

GS: As someone who has earned a multitude of honors throughout the course of your career, what does your upcoming (June 2013) induction into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame mean to you?

CK: It's an honor, a great honor. That's what it means to me. I guess I'm in there with a lot of great people. That's meaningful of course. I'm honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with a lot of them.

GS: Do you have a special place of honor in your home for all of your awards?

CK: I have a little cabinet that I put some stuff in. My mother, however, keeps the lion share of my stuff.

GS: It's nice to hear that she's so proud of you.

CK: Yes, she is.

GS: What was the inspiration for Chakalates, your line of gourmet chocolates?

CK: At the time that it started, I had one foundation. (When) we started out, it was for autism. Now it's branched out into other things. We wanted to make some money and keep money coming in for the foundation. I was the main contributor [laughs]. So we tried to figure a way to take some of the stress off of me until we really got off the ground. We thought we'd try to sell something that everyone likes. I haven't met a person yet that does not like chocolate. We thought that might be a sure fire way and as it turned out it was. We started out at Neiman Marcus. We discontinued them (the chocolates) at a time. Then the demand was so great that we had to revisit that and do it again. Here we are again, doing it, and we've added Khana Sutra candles to the mix. That's just the beginning.

GS: Do you have a personal favorite among the confections?

CK: Yes, the candles are my personal favorite. I'm chocolated out [laughs].

GS: In addition to being a performer and an entrepreneur, you are also renowned for your activism and philanthropy. In March 2013, for instance you performed at the closing ceremonies of the South Florida AIDS Walk and in May 2013 you will be headlining the Center on Halsted's annual Human First Gala. Can you please say a few words about your support of and relationship with the LGBT community?

CK: It goes way back. I find my gay and lesbian followers to be the most un-fickle of all my followers. I tell you, when times got a little rough, when I had any rough spots, I could always do some track dates at some gay clubs [laughs]. I don't know exactly what my appeal is, maybe it's the butch in me, I don't know. I know I'm kind of butchy. That's cool. I love it. I truly embrace that part of myself. Whatever it is, I'm not the kind of person to look gift horses in the mouth. I take it, embrace it, love it, nurture it.

GS: When you are in Chicago, do you ever seek out any old favorite spots that you used to frequent?

CK: I would love to have the time to do that. When I get back, I get totally engulfed with old friends and family. We pick a spot and a lot of times my old friends will show up. We rekindle. A lot of the spots I used to frequent, they aren't there anymore. Like The Pumpkin Room, the Burning Spear. Chicago is one of the most rapidly changing cities, I tell you. I don't recognize a lot of it when I go back.

GS: It's been a few years since Funk This, your last studio disc. Is there another one in the works?

CK: I'm in the studio right now. Yeah, baby. I'm finishing up the last touches here. I'll be done this weekend.

GS: When do you think it will be available?

CK: It will be available on the second of July.

ChicagoPride.com and the GoPride Network is a proud media sponsor of the Human First Gala.


Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.