Chaka Khan had already established a career in music before the iconic artist Prince emerged from Minnesota. However, the pair went on to form a bond over the course of their careers, a relationship that started when Khan covered Prince’s song ‘I Feel for You’ in 1984.
Khan’s version became the lead single off her album I Feel for You, taking its title from Prince’s original. Moreover, it ironically became the best selling version of the song. Prince would have his musical revenge though, as ‘Purple Rain’ helped to keep Khan’s cover off the top of the charts, peaking at number three on the Billboard Top 100.
Khan’s fantastic cover even included Stevie Wonder on harmonica and a rap by Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The title of this song would go on to embody a more tangible meaning for Khan when Prince tragically passed away in 2016—but we will come to that later.
Khan first shot to fame amongst the glitz of funk and disco in the ’70s as lead singer in the Chicago funk band, Rufus. They scored their biggest hit in 1974 with ‘Tell Me Something Good’, penned by none other than Stevie Wonder. Rufus would embark on a hit-making run before disbanding in 1983. Consequently, Khan went it alone and has since earned several Grammy Awards in response.
Prince wouldn’t break through until 1979, with the iconic hit ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, from his self-titled second album. This is the album that contained the original ‘I Feel for You’, the penultimate track. Prince would continue to gain plaudits until he was catapulted to the legendary echelons with the 1982 release of the mash LP 1999, which featured the title track and ‘Little Red Corvette’.
Two years later, the album Purple Rain would cement Prince into the foundations of popular culture. It was a phenomenon, and is widely regarded as his opus featuring hits such as ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and ‘When Doves Cry’. Later, by the mid-1980s, Prince had become so popular that other artists started to score hits with his songs. These include Sinead O’ Connor’s timeless ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and the Bangles’ ‘Manic Monday’. Of course, this list of artists included Chaka Khan as well.
Khan’s association with Prince wouldn’t end there. In the late ’90s she would record her ninth solo album Come 2 My House, which was released by Prince’s NPG record label. Subsequently, Khan would also support Prince on tour around the turn of the century.
Although both artists would continue to gain success, Khan’s star would slowly begin to fade, and Prince would begin to have off-stage struggles, two of the most notable being his contractual battles with Warner Bros. and, more personally, with the reliance on painkillers.
This addiction to painkillers would lead to Prince’s accidental overdose on fentanyl on April 21st, 2016. Khan had already announced a tour at the time, but after reports of his sudden death, Khan was understandably freaked out by the shocking death of her friend, and the fact that at the time, she was taking the same medication as him. Along with her sister, she checked into rehab and released this statement via USA Today: “Unfortunately, I will miss concert appearances over the summer,” she said.
“However, it’s vital that I put my health and well-being first. I know that I am disappointing some of my fans, but I also know they would want me to recover and be well and healthy. The tragic death of Prince has had (our family) rethinking and reevaluating our lives and priorities. We knew it was time to take action to save our lives.”
Khan eventually worked out her issues and continued to pursue her musical career. Recently, for International Women’s Day, Khan has recorded a new version of her smash hit ‘I’m Every Woman’ which Broadway star Idina Menzel – the voice of Elsa from Disney’s Frozen.
It is a testament to Prince’s unrivalled legacy that he inadvertently saved Chaka Khan’s life, even if he sadly didn’t with his own.