She is 25 now, the fame and money came at 20, and at the time, it was a little too hot to handle. Now, she speaks in muted tones, with a measured forth-rightness that comes from learning late what happens when actions & words aren't weighted carefully. "I spent a lot of money recklessly", she says of that first sudden rush of stardom, and she found herself at the center of a raft of rumors - about her personal life, about her alleged drugtaking habits, that were "pretty much not the truth. It seemed that if I experienced life, everybody had to know about it.If I had been working at a Sears store, doing the same things, no one would have said anything".
The pace on stage was fast, she says, and so offstage, "I guess I was unwinding at a rate faster than most people". Now she says,"I haven't necessarily toned down what I do, but I keep it among just a few good friends.Privacy is a sacred thing in a way". So she lives
on a ranch in Malibu with her 5 year old daughter Millini (by her former marriage), and her songwriter-band manager Husband, Richard Holland. "I'm too wild", she says. "I need a marriage band on my finger.At least I know that about myself.A lot of people never figure it out".
She grew up Yvette Marie Stevens, a middle class Chicago kid, Catholic family, and Catholic school. She fought against that background, took the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoha Hodarhi Karifi, and left home at 16 to find her way into the hard world of North Side Chicago nightclubs in the late '60's and early '70's. "It was really rough", she says. "It took a lot of peppermint schnapps and other things to get through it. There were a lot of us - eight or nine people - living together as a family, working at night, living on welfare, stealing money - pretty much of a vagabond existence".
Then Rufus came along, five musicians in need of a female singer, and off they went to hollywood in 1973 to become famous together, until this year, when Chaka Khan went off to be famous on her own. She still owes Rufus two more records, but all the personal appearances, all the promotion are hers.Alone.It can be a little nerve wracking.
"The audience comes to be manipulated", she says. "They want to be charmed, and talked to.I'm not very good at it yet, actually.I don't know what to say.I'm better with the hecklers - at least I'm getting some response to what I'm saying".
She has been compared to Donna Summer, the queen of sex & disco. She knows what to say to that. "The ONLY thing Donna Summer and I have in common", says Chaka Khan, "is that we both know how to speak a little German".