Singer and Essence Festival veteran Chaka Khan turned 61 on Sunday, and if her Essence Festival performance from two years ago tells us anything, it’s that the passing of time won’t do much to her pipes or her two-step.
In 2012, in one of the more memorable performances of recent years, a newly-slim Chaka Khan had quite the task. On the last day of the festival, she was slated to perform on the Mainstage right after Ms. Aretha Franklin, whose show ran way over, because, well, she’s Ms. Aretha Franklin. (Hers was a 90-minute, 13-song set, complete with a full orchestra and an award ceremony in the middle.)
It was 1 a.m. before Chaka Khan took to the stage before a tired, dwindiling crowd. What happened next was incredible. Even Tank counts this festival moment among his favorite, and told us in a recent interview that Chaka Khan’s set was well worth the wait.
Watch part of Chaka Khan’s 2012 “Tell Me Something Good” performance below, and don’t forget to send us stories of your favorite moments from the Essence Festival.
Trouper to the end: With the show running late and Aretha Franklin running unexpected long, Chaka Khan had the unenviable task of taking the stage at around 1 a.m. Monday before a rapidly thinning crowd. But the newly svelte R&B belter acquitted herself well with sturdy versions of hits such as I Feel for You, Sweet Thing, I’m Every Woman and Tell Me Something Good.
When Chaka Khan headed down to New Orleans in 2011 for the Essence Music Festival, it wasn’t the city she remembered. “When I landed I sensed something was really, really wrong there,” she tells Rolling Stone. “The infrastructure in that city was hit really hard, and they’re still reeling. It’s really sad, because it didn’t feel like the same New Orleans I’d been going to for most of my life.”
Khan took time to interact with some of the locals, which had a profound effect on her. “I met some women and I asked them questions. ‘What’s it like for you and did you lose anybody?’ I heard horrific stories,” she says. “Some of the women had lost, in one day, their mother, their aunts, their granddaughters. Some women were living in their car or living with friends. They had no hope of recovery. It was horrific. [And] the stories they were telling really changed me.”
So she teamed with a group called IWES (Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies) and the Essence Music Festival to take on a transformation for 150 women. The year-long work of the Superlife Transformation Program, which targeted career, education and health goals, will culminate with a graduation ceremony at this year’s Essence Festival next month. Khan went down recently to visit with the women and found amazing results.
“A hundred and fifty women were totally on the upward spiral to a better life, to a super life. They were closing on houses. One girl started an all-girl band, and I’m gonna be singing with her when I go down there for their graduation,” she says. “The women will share some of their plans and talk about their future. Then they will take an oath to assist and foster and mentor a new crop of women. So it’s great. A little love goes a really, really long way.”