After years of nominations, Chaka Khan was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Friday, with Common, H.E.R., Sia, and Jazmine Sullivan welcoming the singer to the hall at the Brooklyn’s Barclay Center induction ceremony.
Sullivan — who previously performed alongside Khan in a star-studded rendition of “I’m Every Woman” at the 2017 Essence Festival — first delivered the induction speech.
“That voice, as raw as it is sweet, as sensual as it is soulful, has guided us through good times and bad, through meet-ups and breakups, through desire and despair, through hard times and higher love,” Sullivan said. “Chaka’s voice will never get lost among her peers or fade in the background, her tone stands alone. Everything about Chaka is fire.”
Sullivan gave an emotional induction for Khan, recalling when Khan called Sullivan’s mother after she went into remission for breast cancer. “I can still see my mother falling off the couch in pure excitement when she saw Chaka appear on the screen. Not to mention that day that the woman whose voice carried you through so much of your life was equally a beautiful and empathetic soul as well.
“The fact that she took the time to reach out to my mother at that point in my life,” she continued with a long pause as the crowd applauded, “puts her in my personal hall of fame. This year Chaka is celebrating 50 years in the music industry, that’s five decades of peerless artistry, five decades of hits, five decades of influencing generations of artists, especially young women like me.”
What followed was a medley of Khan’s biggest hits from her Rufus era to her solo career, with Common kicking things off with the Prince-penned “I Feel for You” before H.E.R. took over on vocals and guitar with Rufus gems “Ain’t Nobody” and “Sweet Thing.”
Sia, wearing an intricate pink rainbow coat and matching wig covering her eyes, closed out the celebration of Khan’s legacy with a rendition of her anthem, “I’m Every Woman.” Khan was a Rock Hall finalist several times over the past decades, both as a solo artist and with Rufus, before finally and rightfully receiving the honor as part of the Class of 2023.
Khan gave a brief speech after her medley, bringing Rufus guitarist Tony Maiden on stage and citing him as a key figure in her musical success. “I used to be called Rufus,” Khan told the crowd. “I brought Rufus with me tonight. Without [Maiden] and the band Rufus, I would not be where I am today, and that’s a fact. We’ve been through a whole lot of good and crazy stuff together. He is a great musician, writer and guitar player, and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Tony Maiden. Thank you so much.”
“Funk queen, rock goddess, jazz singer, disco diva – Chaka Khan embodies and transcends these. With a voice of seductive fire and sweet smoke, Khan came to prominence with the innovative funk/rock group Rufus in the 1970s,” the Rock Hall said of the singer. “Equally ferocious and feminine, she was Rufus’ secret weapon. At a time when audiences for rock and soul were splitting into different camps, Khan’s voice and presence represented the racial and social integration at the heart of rock & roll.”