The Many Shades of Chaka Khan, Now in 'Purple'

Excerpted portions of article and interview

New York Times/December 30, 2007

The Broadway stage has seen celebrities come, and it has seen them go, but it may just have to get up off its doubts for Chaka Khan. This R&B and funk star begins performing as the sassy, fearless Sofia in "The Color Purple" on Jan. 9.

Ms. Khan's list of theatrical credits is short, but her string of Grammy Awards is long, and she is up for two more for "Funk This," her first studio album in 10 years. Those who remember Ms. Khan as the erstwhile Yvette Marie Stevens, the petite high school student who changed her name when she went to work for the Black Panthers, or as the lead singer of Rufus in the '70s, or as the leather-and-feathers '80s disco queen, will have to adjust their Ray-Bans for the musical's Hoover-era Sofia with her long skirts and history. Until they hear her.

Ms. Khan, 54, takes over the role as the veteran gospel star BeBe Winans joins the production as Sofia's husband, Harpo, and newcomer Zonya Love starts as Celie. Between rehearsing her numbers at the Broadway Theater, Ms. Khan spoke to Celia McGee. These are excerpts from their conversation.

Q. That's quite a charm bracelet. What's on there?

A. This charm, here, represents the three ARCs of Scientology.

Q. Religion is important in "The Color Purple." Are you a Scientologist?

A. I'm not, never was, never will be. I belong to the religion of the Church of Chaka Khan, and I practice it every day. I live my religion, I consider it a personal thing. But I've taken some courses in Scientology, and they've been very, very helpful through life's ups and downs.

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