Chaka Khan, the powerhouse songstress whose vocals fueled the band Rufus for 12 years, smashed back onto the charts this fall with the album Funk This, debuting at number 15 on the Billboard Top 200, her highest position in more than 20 years.
"I'm working too hard to celebrate," Khan says during all-day promotion for her album. In January she'll take up residence on Broadway, playing Sofia in The Color Purple. It's a far cry from her years spent battling record companies for creative control -- not to mention a very public struggle to get and stay sober. She credits her "unfickle" queer fans with helping keep her afloat through the turmoil. "Whenever times got rough," she says, "I could always depend on one of the children to come through with a gig."
Maybe it's having been through the fire more than a few times that has left her so casually candid. In September she admitted on the air, almost offhandedly, to New York DJ Wendy Williams that she'd had lesbian relationships during her early career. "All little girls and all little boys experiment," she says plainly.
Khan, 54, says that, after a lifetime of trying to unlearn Catholic repression, sex is "not a real big thing" for her. "If men could be more like women, I would definitely be more interested in them. A lot of men are denying their feminine side, which I think is their loss. When a woman meets a man who understands her, who gets her because he feels it too -- I can't think of anything more beautiful than that."