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Chaka Khan tells us something good at the Tiny Desk


This June, NPR's Tiny Desk is celebrating Black Music Month with a series of performances led by Black women.


CHAKA KHAN: (Singing) What I got surely will do you good.

SUMMERS: And they released the mother of these Tiny Desk concerts from Chaka Khan.


KHAN: (Singing) Tell me something good - oh, tell me baby.

SUMMERS: She launched her career with "Tell Me Something Good," her band's breakthrough hit, 50 years ago. And after the show, I had a chance to speak with her briefly. And I asked her what it meant to be in the game for five decades. She said she never gave it much thought.

KHAN: Not once. No, I never once - I never thought, will I be doing this 25 years, you know? Will I be, like, doing this 50 years? No - ever - not ever. It just happened one day. I was like - somebody said, girl, you know you've been doing this 50 years? I said, you're kidding. That's really - that was really my response. I had no idea. I'm not watching the clock.

SUMMERS: Chaka Khan may not be keeping track of time, but today she sits as one of the elder stateswomen of funk and R&B and the whole spectrum of Black music. I asked her if she thought about her place in that spectrum.

KHAN: I am honored to be a part of the reason that some artists are actually doing what they do, you know? I'm honored to have anything to do with somebody's calling. You know, that's the biggest honor that there is, I think.


KHAN: (Singing) Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me something good.

Thank you.


KHAN: (Singing) All night and day, chipping away. All in a day's work.

SUMMERS: I am curious - when you look at this young generation of artists and performers who are out there, who out there inspires you? Whose music do you see that you really ejoy hearing or who you feel like is really creating and bringing something beautiful into this world?

KHAN: Well, I have to say Willow is one. I'm very impressed with her. She's a genius. She's got something going on that is pretty amazing. I like how she mixes many genres. And, you know, she has no limits. I love that about her. She's just an amazing, amazing artist. Sia is another...


KHAN: ...Amazing artist. There are so many, I could pretty much go on and on, you know? There are so many young people that are doing amazing stuff. And if I've had anything to do with that, I can just go on. I can leave now. I'm good (laughing).

SUMMERS: Can't leave quite yet.


KHAN: (Singing) What are you going to do?


SUMMERS: Chaka Khan played us a range of her hits, "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me," "Through The Fire," "Ain't Nobody" and more. But she closed on the other song that she's become iconic for - "I'm Every Woman."


KHAN: (Singing) I'm every woman. It's all in me. Anything you want done, baby, I'll do it naturally.

SUMMERS: I do want to ask you about the song that you closed out with, "I'm Every Woman." And I - when you're talking to Chaka Khan, you've got to do your research, so I was reading somewhere that this was a song that you felt like, in many ways - that you had to grow into when you first...

KHAN: Yeah, I...

SUMMERS: ...Started playing it. Can you talk a little bit about that account, and...

KHAN: Well, I didn't feel like I was every - I took it literally when I did that. It just - I was younger. I took it as like, I'm not every woman. That's so stupid, you know? (Laughter) That's not what it means. That's what was going on. I was taking it literally. And that's why I felt uncomfortable. You know, I was also growing into being a solo artist. There were quite a few things happening in my life at that time. You know, I was tripping, so (laughter)...

SUMMERS: Well, how do you see that song today?

KHAN: Well, I see it as a great song, and it is an anthem.

SUMMERS: It's a great song.

KHAN: It's one of those anthems. Yeah, I don't take it literally anymore. I see it as, like - I was speaking for all women. It ain't all about me, you know?

SUMMERS: Chaka Khan's Tiny Desk concert is out now on

(CHEERING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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