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Chaka Khan has come ‘Through the Fire’

R&B singer to receive BET's Lifetime Achievement Award
/ Source: The Associated Press

R&B diva Chaka Khan likens her more-than 35-year singing career to her timeless hit song “Through the Fire.”

“Ive been through a lot,” says Khan, who has won eight Grammy Awards since cracking into the music industry in 1971 as the 17-year-old featured vocalist for the group Rufus.

In the years since, Khan, 53, has enjoyed critical and commercial success with such hits as “I Feel For You,” “Im Every Woman,” “Tell Me Something Good” and “Aint Nobody.” Tuesday night, Black Entertainment Television honors Khan with its Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in Los Angeles.

The revered singer sat down recently with The Associated Press and talked about her life and career, including the horror of her son, Damien Holland, 27, facing murder charges, and ultimately being acquitted.

AP: How does it feel to be the recipient of BETs Lifetime Achievement Award?

Khan: Its brilliant. Im excited about it and Im very grateful. Im grateful to be acknowledged at that level by our (black) people. Its a wonderful thing.

AP: At what point in your career did you feel you had made it?

Khan: I still dont (laughs). Im waiting for that moment. Making it for me is just being able to touch a lot of lives in a positive way and to do Gods will. To do what Im put here to do. You know, thats an ongoing journey.

AP: So, spirituality or religion has played a key part in your life?

Khan: Spirituality has played an amazing part. Its been paramount in my life.

AP: What challenges or obstacles have you had to overcome to achieve this level of success?

Khan: Oh, you name it, Ive probably had to overcome it. Ive been through the fire, you know. And I have some scars... lots of internal ones. But theyre all scabbed over. Im a real next woman. Im like, next, bring it on.

AP: Have personal events in your life influenced your music?

Khan: Every personal experience of my life impacts my music. I can only give what I have. And when I receive, I give it back. I often fix it or color it differently or give it in my way, but thats what its about.

AP: How did you handle the charges of murder against your son, as well as his acquittal? (Holland was accused in the death of a 17-year-old family friend in 2004. A Los Angeles jury acquitted him on May 5 of murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges.)

Khan: Its devastating for anyone to lose their life. A baby, a baby we loved. The devil is busy. The demons are busy... In a split second just madness went down. ... You know, this is just not in the script. It aint part of this script here. ... It was an accident. I said God will make this. He will do his job. And I had to stay in that state of mind. I learned through that, more than anything, to really trust in him. You just got to trust.

AP: What projects are in the works for you?

Khan: Im working on a new CD right now. (Producers Jimmy) Jam and (Terry) Lewis and I have been in the studio for the last good month. Im working with a couple of other producers. I plan to have a CD out by October.

AP: Why did you sign with Burgundy Records?

Khan: They are a boutique label and thats all I need. They really believe in me. Theyre going to do me right. Ill be in the record shops. Ill get played. Its a partnership more so than anything else.

AP: So what sound can your fans expect to hear?

Khan: The thing is I had to explore what made everyone fall in love with me in the first place and stop trying to flip. Im just trying to break it back down to square one on this one and really have something to say. I want to give some positive messages and to empower some people. Just break it down and take the overproduction out. A lot like the beginning.

AP: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Khan: (Laughs) I would have been an archaeologist or something, maybe a historian. There are a lot of things I would have liked to have done differently, but everything that happened to me made me the person I am today. No matter how negative it seemed at the time or whatever hardship it seemed to have been at that time, Im just the sum of all those amazing experiences. So I guess I wouldnt change a thing.

AP: What lessons have you learned that you would impart to those trying to follow a similar path?

Khan: Youve just got to follow your own path. You have to trust your heart and you have to listen to the warnings. ... You cant argue with the universe. Its not about that. Its more about relaxing and knowing that you can handle it and feeling empowered. Knowing you have the power to do whatever the hell you want to do. Thats what its about. It really is.