When I was in Chicago a few weeks ago, I happened to drive past Chaka Khan Way, angling off of 53rd Street. I took this as a sign that I needed to reassess Chaka’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame. She was on the ballot last year, and I voted no for her, noting, “It concerns me that declaring I will not vote for a certain nominee might be taken as some sort of indictment of them, but I have nothing bad to say about Chaka Khan.”
She’s back this year, for what is really the third time, because Rufus was on the ballot in 2011. Chaka joined Rufus as a teenager, had just turned 20 when their first album came out, and was only 21 when they broke through with “Tell Me Something Good,” written by Stevie Wonder. (She and Stevie later duetted on “1999” at the tribute to Prince [who also wrote a hit song for Chaka) in October of this year. )
Khan wrote Rufus’ “Sweet Thing” with guitairst Tony Maiden, taking it to the Top Five in 1975 – it was later covered by Mary J. Blige. After Rufus’ last big hit, “Ain’t Nobody,” Chaka hit solo with Prince’s “I Feel for You,” then on Quincy Jones' "I'll Be Good to You," in 1989. All in all, her hitmaking career spanned nearly 25 years, and all the hits are indelible, holding up very well.
The Case For The Queen of Funk has left a huge imprint on the world of R&B. You can get a sense for how highly regarded Chaka was by the caliber of people who wanted to work with her: In addition to the aforementioned names, there was also Grandmaster Melle Mel and Steve Winwood and Ray Charles and even Rick Wakeman. All of her hits are great, but “Tell Me Something Good” is just spectacular.
The Case Against Rufus only
had three Top Ten hits, and Chaka solo had just “I Feel for You.” There
were 12 other Top Forty hits, but for a singles artist, that’s not a great deal
of chart action.
The Cool Factor Here’s Rufus in their natural habitat, on Chicago’s own Soul Train, in what may be the coolest, funkiest, sexiest video I’ve ever seen. At first I thought Chaka was rocking a treasure trail here, but then I realized it was actually a C-section scar (her daughter, Milini, had been born earlier that year). Bono called Frank Sinatra “the champ who would rather show you his scars than his medals,” but Chaka got there long before Bono did.
The Verdict When I was
compiling my framework for how to think about each vote, I realized that in a
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, coolness is the paramout virtue. Nobody was
cooler than Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan and Rufus have been on the ballot once each,
and fallen short; I don’t know if there will be another go-round for either.
The time to vote for her is now. I vote yes for Chaka Khan.