Tag Archive: diva


I penned this for www.about.com/dancemusic back in 2007 and it is now here on my blog…at “home” where it should be. “Hi, Chaka!!”

Long before people began anointing every singer with a big voice a “diva”, I noticed the slightly different lead singer of a band called Rufus back during my college radio days. Guys all over campus, including yours truly, fell in “love” with everything about this new star. From her big hair to her kind of cute, quirky-jerky dance movements between lyrics on stage (hear “Better Days” and “Ain’t Nobody”), we were all smitten. If you’ve ever seen her perform, then your mind will imagine her moves to the groove as this CD opens up with “Back In The Day”, a chronicle of her early Chi-town upbringing.

Yet, as I look back to the days of “Tell Me Something Good” (remember the heavy breathing?), it is probably precisely at this point that none of us could have even gotten close to that “Angel” who might have been “inconsistent, flying blind most of the time”, as portrayed on track four of this, her latest album/CD. Oh yes, she gets it real without wasting time, like saying “Funk This” [Burgundy Records 88697 09022 2], so let me tell you my story! This album has the mark of how reconciled with life’s trials Chaka is; knowing it is the right time for this long promised propitiate to her fans. It also occurs to me that the first song is an ode to her recognizing that singing became her salvation.
Next you’ll see what she’s up to here, mixing new songs and covering timeless hits when she re-classics the Dee Dee Warwick smash “Foolish Fool”.

This is not a greatest hits compact disc, but her sound flavored with the seasoned sensations of her career and life. Having been in the orchestra seats to witness many of her performances, I ask myself, “Where has the time gone?” Well, the Chaka Khan of Rufus fame is back on this one, and appropriate props are due to the sensitivities of the Jam and Lewis production duo too! She pays homage to one of my inspirations, Jimi Hendrix on “Castles Made Of Sand” (I couldn’t believe it was the same song when first I read the title on the back cover), your mind will play the trick of having you think the Experienced one came back just to play for this track. Here she talks about the album!

“Disrespectful” features Mary J. Blige, and the lively, funky beat reminds me of the 2005 jam by Amerie, “1 Thing”; I’d love to see them perform it “live”; Hell, I want to see her do all of this live, and just in – this is the track spawning smokingly funky remixed versions, for all us club DJs!

Right after we beautifully relive the magic of the “Pack’d My Bags”/ “You Got The Love” medley where it is happily noticeable to me that she has reunited with her former Rufus guitarist Tony Maiden, it becomes really time to soulfully groove as Chaka pays homage to her good friend Joni Mitchell on “Ladies Man”.
I love the background singers on that one, and speaking of accompaniments, imagine the trademark Carly Simon smile towards Michael McDonald’s duet with Chaka to her “You Belong To Me” here as well.

“Super Life” has my vote for the best single. Chaka’s material is so relatable here in the future that is now.

That this is vintage Chaka is to evoke one of those clichés that I despise, so I will say that this is refreshing funk and so necessary against the backdrop of today’s so often lame and laboriously slow “neo” R & B, and it is pure Chaka Khan, wide-ranging vocals from the gritty to the signature shouting extended vamp notes.
I believe that you will want to listen repeatedly in various situations and moods to this familiar musical friend.

Once anointed, and often referred to on the air as “lips and hips” by my friend, the late WBLS New York City programmer (and on of my reluctant radio mentors) Frankie Crocker, I feel that she is and always has been much, much more complicated that that – but we all had fun playing to that fantasy once upon a time. If there is a category for it, this album would win the comeback Grammy of the year. After meeting her backstage at the Blue Note in New York City back in 1992, and briefly hanging out with her (my date made an exit, stage right, so I could hang – a night I’ll never forget), I always knew she would bless us with more excellent music. So in a way, my original dream from college days has almost come true. As I wrote this, Ms. Khan was to make her Broadway debut in early 2008 as the character played by Oprah in “The Color Purple”, Sofia opposite BeBe Winans.? What ever happened wit dat? lol

Check out her myspace page for some contest details. No point deduction for a well thought-out and timed return equals five tasty Chakalatte stars in my guest book.

Here is one of my favorite Chaka and Rufus from the past, their version of Bobby Womack’s “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” in video!

Your comments about Chaka Khan, Please? “Pajulsta”? Пожалуйста?

                                   It is always ominous when a huge star’s “people” keep secret what bad things are happening to them.  Recently, Aretha Franklin had a secret surgery that nobody wants to tell us exactly what organ the surgery was performed upon. I guess that is her perogative; however, when you are an icon, with millions of adoring admirers around the globe, I believe you owe them more respect than a vague press release, or some bulls*** from Jesse Jackson.  Maybe they surgeried some of that weight off of her! It isn’t embarrassing to be less than perfect anymore, yet slimmer is better for your heart.

It is obvious to me that Aretha Franklin’s health is in trouble; pancreatic cancer is the “word”.  Two of my radio mentors passed away due to that, “Hmmm”.  As I have said previously, I’d rather not write about her posthumously, choosing to send my recollections from my collection with the hope that they reach her hospital bed and possibly aid her recuperation and longevity because she is one of my first favorites!

“Ree-Ree” (as I heard one of my radio mentors call her affectionately), my Mum even says you’ve gained too much weight, by the way! Mum can say that, she is eighty-six at the time of this post.  Funny thing about that to me is that at first she did not want me to listen to your hit music, “Respect” when I was a boy, calling it “gut-bucket music”.  Fortunately, those kinds of protestations from my parents just made me want to defy them more and get into your music.

When I think of Aretha Franklin, I see that classic black and red (unless a promo copy) Atlantic Records label even though she recorded on several major record companies.  My first of hers was “Respect”, (wouldn’t you know it) followed by “Chain Of Fools” and “Spanish Harlem” as I dig though my boxes of 45s (45rpm vinyls, for you who are too young).  The first album I added to my collection was 1970’s “Aretha Live At Fillmore West” – still in excellent condition, thank you – which featured the late Billy Preston on organ, Ray Charles and King Curtis on tenor saxophone among other members of an all-star band behind her.

Aretha Franklin always brings to my mind the great musicians that she has worked with through the years.  Cats like Cornell Dupree on guitar, The Memphis Horns, and since I was a novice drummer back during her early hits, drummers like Grady Tate and especially Bernard “Pretty” Purdie,  who really defined the rhythm of her sound on tracks like the 1971 smash, “Rock Steady”, or how he wore it out behind one of Aretha’s classic, classicly clear vamps til the fade on her 1973 “Master Of Eyes”. 

Perdie’s signature snare-to-high hat accents always let me know that he was on the set.   Fortunately I have had the privilege of meeting Mr. Dupree and hanging out many nights with Mr. Tate over the past twenty years in Manhattan (The ole “Possible Twenty”!).  I still hope I can do an interview with The Queen Of Soul before her time soon comes.

Almost everybody knows the words to an Aretha Franklin hit song.  I was at a holiday party just the other night where we all broke into the lyrics of another one from ’73, “Until You Come Back To Me, (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” penned by Stevie Wonder! (I bet you didn’t know that!)

I grew-up with Ms. Franklin’s music on WWRL AM,WLIB AM/FM and WBLS FM (Program Director Frankie Crocker always played album cuts from her, not just the singles) in New York City, a phenomenon of style the made inroads on radio formats across the U.S. and across the great pond.  Therefore, I’m going to be kind of all over the place here if I don’t get a grip, as Aretha conjures so many different situations, hits , emotions and memories from my musical mind.  Admittedly she came up in an era where the competition of talent was the toughest and the dealings between major record labels was fiercest.  Most of the “soul” artist stars were on Motown, and here Aretha came as an equal in every way to the Gordy’s stable.   Mentored and chaperoned by the best including Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler and Clive Davis,  a session with her recording must have been pure magic!

Aretha was kind of an afterthought with me as a teenager; she was always “there” in the background of the scene as most of the “great ones” are, until she would put something new out, and then “BANG!” we’d be right back singing to her songs and dancing to her energy within the beat.  There are too many songs to name here, so let’s quickly see what else I have in my vinyl crates: “With Everything I Feel In Me” is the 1974 album with one of her sexiest covers, wearing nothing but what looks like a mink stole under that neat Afro hairdo.  Everything she touched on this album brought a fresh feeling, and I loved her rendition of Bacharach and David’s “You’ll Never Get To Heaven”.   She always seems to really enjoy her voice and the things she can do with those lungs as proved by the acapella end solo on that cut. 

The next album in my collection is “You” released in 1975 which featured “Mr. D.J.(5 For The D.J.)” [obviously dedicated to yours, truly] an homage to the burgeoning trend of disco  jocks back then, “It Only Happens (When I look At You)”, a Tom Scott saxophone solo on “Without You”, which was also released as a single, and Ree-Ree’s excellent soft touch on the late Van McCoy’s “Walk Softly”.  You can tell she was jamming with a new bunch of musicians on this album – they were not as soulful as the previous albums were, but not a bad change necessarily.  I see that I underlined Whitney’s mum, Cissy Houston on the back of the album noted among the background singers!  Aretha would lay down a good monologue to introduce her songs every so often, too!

I don’t want to keep you up all night, and this is the internet, so let me say the remaining Aretha albums in my vinyl library are the widely successful 1976 movie soundtrack “Sparkle” featuring “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” “La Diva”, a  rare stiff from 1979 with another sexy cover photo, the jazzy “Aretha Sings The Blues”, which looks like a 1985 “ree-release” (couldn’t resist that one) of some early 1960s songs  on Columbia Records.  It is either nightclub material or they added the “feel” of an audience in the background with sfx.  Last-but-you-know-what, the 1982 album produced by the late Luther Vandross which includes two of my all-time favorite jams, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” and the title track floor-filler, “Jump To It” – I’ve even got the “12-inch” D.J. versions! 

So, what is your favorite Aretha song? You  may most recently remember her from President Obama’s inauguration day when she sported that stylish gray brim while giving proper “respect” to “America The Beautiful”, but let’s just talk hit music here. Prayers and blessings to the Queen.  We are pulling for you to stay around a while, Girl!!

Pickhitt: Update September 2017;

**PickHitt: Aretha Franklin did stay around a while. Indeed much longer than some predicted she would -strength. Alas, she finally left the physical world on August 16, 2018. Maximum Respect.