Taken from The Guardian (Apr 01, 2017)
Chaka Khan: ‘I don’t have time for a man unless he can bring something big to the table, like a huge amount of money’
The singer, 64, talks frankly about Black Panthers days, struggles with addiction, Prince, her epitaph and giving Whitney Houston her break
by Ruth Huntman
‘I’m the happiest I’ve ever been’: Chaka Khan. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
I ran away from home at 16. My younger sister and I were very spirited and caused my parents a lot of grief. I was active in the civil rights movement and had joined the Black Panthers. I was skipping school, the FBI came to our house and I’d been arrested a couple of times. Mum was tired of it.
I wanted to be an anthropologist as a kid, and only discovered I had a voice when I literally had to sing for my supper in clubs in downtown Chicago.
Everything comes too easy for people in the music business now – even the untalented. It’s a sad state when a large behind gets you a record deal.
It’s as addictive as doing drugs when you see people singing your song back at you. It’s a kind of love I only get on stage.
I’m proud I gave Whitney Houston her break when she was 15. Her mum Cissy – a friend – told me her daughter had a great voice so I asked her to come sing backing vocals on my first solo album. I saw my younger self in her, but could tell she was destined for greatness.
My struggles with addiction [to alcohol, prescription drugs and heroin] have made me the amazing human being I am now. I have no regrets and wouldn’t change a thing. I’m genuinely surprised I’m still here, though. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this.
Prince and I were great friends. He was a wonderful human being. He told me not to worry about the politics of who should go on first – you or your support act. He said: “If you can’t go on as an equal, don’t bother.”
There’s a lot of things I missed as a young mum, because I was too busy growing up myself. I’m better at it now. I adopted my granddaughter – my son’s daughter – when she was nine. She’s just turned 16. Becoming a mother again later in life was meant to be.
It wrecked me emotionally when I first started singing I’m Every Woman. It was ironic that I was battling deep insecurities yet singing this huge anthem of empowerment. I thought I didn’t have the right to sing it.
Only Joni Mitchell’s music could bring me out of very deep depression on the road. I’d be the only girl on the tour and feeling so depressed and lonely. I’d put on Hejira and that made it more bearable.
I’ve been married twice. Both times I was constantly wondering which person they loved: Chaka Khan or the real me – Yvette Stevens. It would take a man of biblical proportions for me to marry again. I don’t have time for a man unless he can bring something big to the table, like a huge amount of money.
Age isn’t meaningful to me. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my own skin, and more accepting of myself. The older I get the more I realise I don’t have to take any crap.
I’d like my epitaph to say: “She was a good old girl… and a good person.”
Chaka Khan will headline the Henley Festival on Friday 7 July. Tickets from £45