CHAKA KHAN
Interview by Vinnie Baggadonuts
Illustration by Fphatty Lamar

WHEN YOU GET AN EMAIL ASKING "DO YOU WANT TO TALK TO CHAKA KHAN TOMORROW MORNING?" YOU DON'T SAY ANYTHING BUT "YES." CHAKA KHAN IS A LEGEND. AND HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET TO TALK TO A LEGEND? VINNIE BAGGADONUTS TOOK HER UP ON THE OFFER, AND GOT THE QUICK NITTY-GRITTY ON EVERYTHING, FROM HER BRAND-NEW ALBUM TO SINGING WITH SOME PUPPETS.

Vinnie Baggadonuts: Congratulations on your honorary doctorate.

Chaka Khan: Thank you very much.

VB: When did you find out about that?

CK: Oh, a couple months ago.

VB: Really?

CK: Yeah.

VB: Were you expecting it?

CK: No, I wasnít expecting it at all.

VB: How do they tell--

CK: They sent me a letter.

VB: So, where are you at right now?

CK: Iím in Boston.

VB: Are you touring for the new record?

CK: Iím just coming back from New York. Iíve been working. And Iím here now to pick up my degree.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Are you going to tour for your new album, ClassiKhan?

CK: Yes, I will. Weíre in the process now of rehearsing for a DVD; weíll be shooting on the 18th of this month at a theater in downtown L.A. It will be shot like a mini-musical, with dancers, stage settings, and the whole nine. After that, itís the Holidays. And then Iíll start touring.

VB: What was it that inspired you to record these particular songs?

CK: Well, actually, I chose from over a hundred songs, so this is going to just be the first volume.

Both: (laugh)

CK: But these songs have been a part of my fiber since I was a child. My mom took me to see Goldfinger. My mom took me to see To Sir, With Love. I grew up on Peggy Lee, Lita, Sarah, Ella-- all these people! I just felt compelled at this point, I guess, to purge myself of this music.

VB: And was this the first time youíd worked with a symphony orchestra?

CK: No. Iíve worked with some on a couple of other occasions. With Jeremy Lubbock once, and Babyface, as well, I believe.

VB: When you record an album like this, where you sound more like Billie Holiday or Shirley Bassey instead of the R&B Chaka Khan people might expect from you, do you feel like itís something you have to work harder for?

CK: No. For me, this is where I live. For me, this is easy music-- the music I love to do. This is my first music. It came before everything else in my life. I felt very at home doing this CD.

VB: And is there any difference recording songs by other people, for other people, than recording songs written by you, or for you?

CK: Not really. Not for me, no!

Both: (laugh)

CK: If I love a song, I make it mine. Thatís how it is. I love to sing. Itís the easiest thing for me to do.

VB: Were there any songs on this first volume that you just couldnít--

CK: --fit?

VB: Or you thought about after the fact, like, "Oh, I wish I could have put this one on there."

CK: No. Like I said, thereíll be other volumes.

VB: Did this make you think at all about doing a duets album, like Sinatra did?

CK: No. Not at all.

VB: Is there anyone, of the people whose work you recorded, that you would have loved to collaborate with but never got a chance to?

CK: Probably all of them. There are a lot of people I would have liked to have collaborated with, and would still like to. But a lot of that has to do more with scheduling. You know, itís just tough to get together and do work with somebody. It happens from time to time, but itís just tough to do. I just did a thing with Kenny G on his CD, and he was nowhere around. It just happens. But right now, I donít know who I want to work with. I donít think about that much until they bring it up, or I see the person and think, "Oh. Letís record something together."

VB: I read an interview you did with Angie Stone for Essence magazine, I think. In it, you talk about how thereís so much you want to do.

CK: Yeah. Other stuff.

VB: Well, when I look at what you have done, itís like, what is out there that you could possibly--

CK: Whatís left?

VB: Yeah.

Both: (laugh)

CK: I canít kick myself in the back of the head yet.

Both: (laugh)

CK: I have a lot of charity work Iím into right now, and selling my Chakalates-- supporting that whole effort. Iíd like to work on putting art programs back in schools. Iíd like to do some AIDS work. Iíd like to work with kids more, and getting guns out of Kmart. Stuff like that. I think the whole reason for my life is in there somewhere. Being a singer is a way for me to get to a platform to do more.

VB: And performing on Sesame Street, was that--

CK: That was special, yes.

VB: Was that possibly the oddest collaboration youíve ever done?

CK: Excuse me?

VB: Well, youíre singing with puppets, you know? Itís a whole other reality. For me it would be, at least.

CK: Well, itís for kids. And it is a whole other reality; yes, it is.

Both: (laugh)

CK: But sometimes Iím singing with puppets and dummies in the real world, too.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Because of that, did you have any little kids coming up to you saying they had seen you on Sesame Street?

CK: Oh, yeah. I get lots of letters from kids.

VB: How does that make you feel?

CK: That was one of those things, you know? Getting a degree, being on Sesame Street... those were like real accomplishments to me.

VB: Well, I envy that, because I grew up on it, and would love to just be able to walk onto the Sesame Street set.

CK: Yeah, I hear you. It was fun.

VB: Now, I know that there is an official Chaka Khan Day in the state of Illinois, and also the city of Chicago. What is it like to have your own day?

CK: I donít know! Because, what do you do on Chaka Khan Day? What do they do? Maybe they play some of my songs, if anyone remembers.

Both: (laugh)

CK: Itís nice. Itís another accolade, and a way of saying that I am appreciated. Itís like a key to a city.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Yeah! Where do those go?

CK: What are they?!? And can I get a key to the bank, too?

Both: (laugh)

CK: Thatís what Iím talking about.

VB: So, with ClassiKhan, not that you might be more proud of it maybe than others, but because this is the music you grew up with--

CK: Yeah, thereís a certain pride, of a different kind, that I have for this. I do have an affection for this stuff, that is different from contemporary stuff.

VB: And as you keep going and making more and more music, do you think youíll have to write a second volume for your autobiography?

CK: No. Iíll never do that again.

Both: (laugh)

CK: Thatís over with. Iíll let someone else write the rest. They can do some research and do their thing. That was not easy.

VB: Well, thank you so much. Is there any last thing you want to tell the people?

CK: Just tell 'em to make sure they buy the album!