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Chaka Khan wants music to stay in schools

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 10/8/2019, 10:02 a.m.
Chaka Khan has been involved with music her whole..

Chaka Khan has been involved with music her whole life. She also has been generous with her time and efforts when it comes to charity. Now the Grammy Award winner has found a way to combine the two by getting behind an organization called Little Kids Rock. Founded in 2002, the New Jersey-based nonprofit provides instruments and materials for public schools across the country. The decline in the number of K-12 schools that are able to offer music- and arts-related programs is alarming to Khan, she said in a recent interview with Variety. She was one of several women profiled in the entertainment trade’s recent “Power of Women” series. “I’ve seen music do some amazing things for people who weren’t expected to do anything,” Khan says. She loves that Little Kids Rock was started by a frustrated elementary school teacher who managed to garner support from such notables as Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt. After a stint as the lead singer of funk group Rufus, she went solo in 1978, and scored with such enduring songs as “I’m Every Woman,” “I Feel for You” and “Through the Fire.” She saw music’s power to heal firsthand when her brother and longtime collaborator, bassist Mark Stevens, suffered a massive stroke in 2016. While Stevens was in a coma, Khan and other family members instinctively knew what he needed to speed his recovery. “My sister and I kept the headphones on him, and we just kept all of our [1980s] music pumping,” Khan says. “The doctor told us that usually people who have it as bad as he did don’t come out of it. Now he’s back. He’s taking college classes and teaching bass. So I’ve seen the magic.” In 1999, she launched the Chaka Khan Foundation to raise awareness about autism in communities of color. She was moved to do so after her nephew was diagnosed as being on the spectrum. Today, her nephew is 21 and still primarily non-verbal. “But he can sing,” she says. “We sing together all the time. Music and horses help him connect to us.” Khan also has a cherished friendship with fellow music legend Joni Mitchell, who suffered a stroke in 2015. She lives within walking distance of Mitchell’s house, which means that when Khan is in L.A., she makes a point of spending time with one of her musical idols. Once again, she found, music was the kinetic energy that Mitchell needed. Supporting Little Kids Rock is Khan’s attempt to ensure that youngsters are exposed to arts not as a luxury but as a means of tapping into an essential part of their humanity. “Love and music,” Khan says, “they’re very close.”