In the middle of her hit “Through the Fire,” R&B powerhouse Chaka Khan stopped to give a personal testimony Saturday night at the Howard Theatre.
“I used to be a bad, bad, bad girl,” the 10-time Grammy winner told the sold-out show. “I used to party back in the day. I’d get off the road, and say to myself, ‘I need a break today.’ And I would leave my two kids with my mother and go AWOL.”
As she partied, Khan said, she carried her cellphone but would not answer it.
“Why wouldn’t you pick up the phone?” someone in the audience yelled at the diva on stage.
“Because,” Khan said, “when you are out there doing that stuff you don’t pick up the phone.”
But one night, “I was so high, I picked up.”
On the other end was a tiny voice that would change her life. “Mommy!” her child cried. “Mommy!” Khan repeats in an operatic voice. “Mommy, where are you? What are you doing, Mommy? Mommmmmmy, why don’t you come home?”
Khan says she rushed to her mother’s house. But her mother stood between Khan and her daughter and son. “You look like something the cat drug in,” her mother said. “Before you get to see these children, you need to get down on your knees and pray.”
So Khan, who has reportedly struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, sank to her knees. “Whatever fires you are going through right now,” Khan told the crowd, “you can get through it.”
Under purple lights, the singer who rose to fame in the ’70s with the funk band Rufus and has influenced a generation of singers, then turned back to her hits, including “Sweet Thing,” “I’m Every Woman” and “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me.”
People danced in their seats to music that reminded them of “back in the day.”
“I’ve seen her so many times, but I’ve never seen her go to church,” said television host Tavis Smiley, who sat in the balcony. “Tonight’s concert was a spiritual experience.”
April Ellington, daughter of Duke Ellington, was sitting near the stage and said: “Chaka is in absolutely fine voice. She looks better than ever.”
Khan finished the show, thanked her crowd and walked offstage with five single red roses, only to return a minute later for an encore. The crowd rose to its feet and exploded.