Known as the Queen of Funk, Chaka Khan has had a long and celebrated career that first started in the 1970s and continues today, with the 25th anniversary re-release of Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan. While speaking with ET’s Nischelle Turner, the 67-year-old singer looks back on recording one of her most iconic hits, “I’m Every Woman,” and the key to her longevity in the music industry.
Released in 1978, “I’m Every Woman” was Khan’s first solo and crossover hit, becoming an international anthem for women everywhere. At the time, the singer admits she didn’t have a full grasp of the song co-written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
“When I first recorded it, I just felt very awkward singing [lyrics “I'm every woman/It's all in me”]” the singer recalls. “What am I talking about? It took me at least 10 years before I stopped taking it personally.”
She goes on to explain that she eventually saw the “big picture” behind the song. “Now, you know, I sing it in a very different way… I got to understand the whole message.”
Another hit that has proved to have lasting power was the 1984 single “Through the Fire,” co-written by David Foster, Tom Keane and Cynthia Weil. The singer recalls when Foster first wrote it, he simply called it “Chaka” and kept asking her to sing the song.
“I didn’t understand any of that,” she recalls with a laugh. “But I said, ‘OK, if you think it’s OK…’ I sang it and here we are.”
When it comes to how she feels about Kanye West’s sampling of the song in his breakout hit single, “Through the Wire,” Khan simply says, “You really don't want to ask me that.”
Of course, those are only two of the chart-toppers that appear on her greatest hits record, which features singles that span into the early ‘90s. Beyond that, she’s released 13 studio albums and 41 solo singles, with her last record being 2019’s Hello Happiness featuring the comeback single “Like Sugar.”
Throughout her career, she’s faced bigotry, racism and sexism within the music industry. She’s also managed to navigate several personal ups and downs, including drug abuse and alcoholism. But she’s still here. “I will say that I have had a lot struggles,” she says, admitting that being Black and being a woman “were my two biggest fights in my whole career.”
When it comes to her longevity, Khan says it’s not something one can give themself. “People give it to you. I didn’t say that I’m gonna be here forever. I just know I’m living in the moment.”
She adds, “I don’t remember what happened yesterday and I don’t care what happens tomorrow. I live in the frickin’ moment right now. So people give me that, and I’m honored.”
A limited edition of Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 printed on burgundy vinyl will be available on Feb. 26.