Chaka Khan reflects on her history in Hyde Park

By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

A weekend of celebration in Chicago just passed for 10-time Grammy Award-winning artist and former Hyde Parker Chaka Khan. The city honored her with a street naming ceremony and the declaration of Chaka Khan Day.

The ceremony to name Blackstone Avenue between 50th and 51st streets Chaka Khan Way was held on Saturday, July 27. She visited RainbowPUSH, 930 E. 50th St., that morning to speak about youth violence and attended a special reception at DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl. Khan was honored in a ceremony on Sunday, July 28, proclaiming that day “Chaka Khan Day,” at Millennium Park. She then gave a free concert to thank the city for the honors.

Khan attributes her 40 years in the entertainment business to “living in a state of grace.”

“I’m 60 years old but I feel like I’m 30, and I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Khan said. “I love what I do. It is my therapy, the way I pray, the way I meditate – it balances me.”

She confessed to not being a model student during her time at Kenwood High School.

“I wasn’t valedictorian or anything. It was during my Black Panther times so I was skipping class a lot. However, I did excel in biology and English,” Khan said. “I didn’t join choir or band or go to the sock hop or anything that was fun because [they were] considered slave activities.”

Khan said she does have fond memories of hanging out at Botany Pond.

When she was asked where she thought the street sign should go, she chose the block that is largely occupied by Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.

“I hope it will inspire someone in some way to do the right thing in life,” Khan said. “Life is short; the sooner you get started the sooner you can enjoy the fruit of your labor.”

Khan, who got her start in music at a very young age, said she met the first band she sang with — Lock and Chain —while simply walking down the street.

“I heard a band rehearsing in a garage. I went in and spoke with them and agreed to be their singer,” Khan said about the band, which she said played a fusion of funk, jazz and rock. “We played at the Pumpkin Room and the Burning Sphere.”

She went on to sing with two other bands — Lyfe and the Baby Sitters — before joining Rufus.

“We [The Babysitters] played the clubs on Rush Street [such as] Nero’s Pit,” Khan said. “People would come in from out of town to have a good time so we performed Top 40 music.”

She said on her breaks she would go across the street to another club to see the group Rufus play.

“I’d love to see them perform because they performed Top 40 but were also able to perform some of their own material,” Khan said.

During that time she said she became friends with Paulette McWilliams, who was singing with Rufus at the time.

“She’d run over to see us perform, I’d run over to see them – we became very close friends,” Khan said.

Khan said when McWilliams left Rufus to pursue a solo career she was asked to join the group. Shortly after she joined Rufus, the group got a record deal in Los Angeles.

Since then, Khan has released 22 albums, obtained 10 No. 1 Billboard magazine-charted songs, seven gold singles and 10 gold and platinum albums. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the BET Honors and Trumpet Award, the Soul Train Legend Award and the BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

In June 2013, she was inducted into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame, in June, 2012, she was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame and in 2011, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Despite her many honors Khan said that she’s still learning and growing.

Khan, who has been on extended vocal rest ordered by her doctor until earlier this month, recently resumed her concert dates in the U.S. and is adding the final touches to “The iKhan Project,” which will feature recorded music in eight genres, including R&B, jazz, pop, rock, gospel, country, classical and dance music.

She said the project would feature artists such as Eric Clapton, Nessu and a drum circle with Sheila E.

“This is a very earthy project; my voice is not over produced,” Khan said. “For the drum circle it’s just Sheila E., me, my sister and my daughter just playing.”

In addition, plans are underway for the Chaka Khan  “I’m Every Woman World Tour,” which will feature other top female artists.

Khan said the tour, which she jokingly referred to as the “Nefertiti Tour” an answer to the Lilith Fair, would feature such artists as Ledesi and even male artists such as Rahsaan Patterson would be asked to perform on the tour.

She is hoping both the iKhan Project and the “I’m Every Woman World Tour” will be ready to go around October or November.

d.phillips@hpherald.com