R&B diva Chaka Khan likens her more than 35-year singing career to her timeless hit song "Through the Fire." The eight-time Grammy winner, who broke into the music industry in 1971 as the 17-year-old featured vocalist for the group Rufus, has overcome much since then, she notes.
Now 53, Khan has enjoyed critical and commercial success with such hits as "I Feel For You," "I'm Every Woman," "Tell Me Something Good" and "Ain't Nobody." Tuesday night, Black Entertainment Television honors Khan with its Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in Los Angeles.
The revered singer sat down recently with The Associated Press and talked about her life and career, including the horror of her son, Damien Holland, 27, facing murder charges, and ultimately being acquitted.
AP: How does it feel to be the recipient of BET's Lifetime Achievement Award?
Khan: It's brilliant. I'm excited about it and I'm very grateful. I'm grateful to be acknowledged at that level by our (black) people. It's a wonderful thing.
AP: At what point in your career did you feel you had made it?
Khan: I still don't (laughs). I'm waiting for that moment. Making it for me is just being able to touch a lot of lives in a positive way and to do God's will. To do what I'm put here to do. You know, that's an ongoing journey.
AP: So, spirituality or religion has played a key part in your life?
Khan: Spirituality has played an amazing part. It's been paramount in my life.
AP: What challenges or obstacles have you had to overcome to achieve this level of success?
Khan: Oh, you name it, I've probably had to overcome it. I've been through the fire, you know. And I have some scars... lots of internal ones. But they're all scabbed over. I'm a real next woman. I'm like, next, bring it on.
AP: Have personal events in your life influenced your music?
Khan: Every personal experience of my life impacts my music. I can only give what I have. And when I receive, I give it back. I often fix it or color it differently or give it in my way, but that's what it's about.
AP: How did you handle the charges of murder against your son, as well as his acquittal? (Holland was accused in the death of a 17-year-old family friend in 2004. A Los Angeles jury acquitted him on May 5 of murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges.)
Khan: It's devastating for anyone to lose their life. A baby, a baby we loved. The devil is busy. The demons are busy... In a split second just madness went down. ... You know, this is just not in the script. It ain't part of this script here. ... It was an accident. I said God will make this. He will do his job. And I had to stay in that state of mind. I learned through that, more than anything, to really trust in him. You just got to trust.
AP: What projects are in the works for you?
Khan: I'm working on a new CD right now. (Producers) Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and I have been in the studio for the last good month. I'm working with a couple of other producers. I plan to have a CD out by October.
AP: Why did you sign with Burgundy Records?
Khan: They are a boutique label and that's all I need. They really believe in me. They're going to do me right. I'll be in the record shops. I'll get played. It's a partnership more so than anything else.
AP: So what sound can your fans expect to hear?
Khan: The thing is I had to explore what made everyone fall in love with me in the first place and stop trying to flip. I'm just trying to break it back down to square one on this one and really have something to say. I want to give some positive messages and to empower some people. Just break it down and take the overproduction out. A lot like the beginning.
AP: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Khan: (Laughs) I would have been an archaeologist or something, maybe a historian. There are a lot of things I would have liked to have done differently, but everything that happened to me made me the person I am today. No matter how negative it seemed at the time or whatever hardship it seemed to have been at that time, I'm just the sum of all those amazing experiences. So I guess I wouldn't change a thing.
AP: What lessons have you learned that you would impart to those trying to follow a similar path?
Khan: You've just got to follow your own path. You have to trust your heart and you have to listen to the warnings. ... You can't argue with the universe. It's not about that. It's more about relaxing and knowing that you can handle it and feeling empowered. Knowing you have the power to do whatever the hell you want to do. That's what it's about. It really is!