Chaka Khan Remembers Prince and His Secret Talent for Impersonating Sly Stone

Chaka Khan performs at Celebrate Brooklyn!
Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic

Chaka Khan performs at Celebrate Brooklyn! 2015 Opening Night Gala & Chaka Khan Concert at Prospect Park Bandshell on June 3, 2015 in New York City.  

Chaka Khan's enthusiasm for Prince's music ran both ways: he was a fan of hers long before she covered his 1979 cut "I Feel For You" to million-selling, Grammy-winning success in 1984, and they would collaborate on a full-length album 14 years later on the Prince-produced Come 2 My House. It would be notable enough if they'd simply first crossed paths as musical peers, but Chaka explains how her initial encounter with Prince came about in a far stranger way.

Billboard caught up with the legendary singer before her performance at the Prince tribute concert Thursday night in St Paul.

BB: What was the first impression you got of Prince as a musician?
Chaka Khan: It was his first album… For You. I fell in love with him as a musician. So much so that the first album, it didn't really catch on like you'd expect it to, but when I heard that song "I Feel For You" I felt that we could not let this song go unheard or unmessed-with. I gotta bring it back!

And did you meet him before you recorded it?
Yes… he told me he had my poster on his wall. Actually, he was in San Francisco recording at Electric Ladyland at the time. I was recording up North as well. He called me at my hotel -- I was and still am very good friends with Sly Stone. He knew that, I guess, 'cause he mimicked Sly's voice completely. I was completely fooled. He said "this is Sly, I'm down at Electric Ladyland." "OK, I'll be right down!" And that's how he got me down to the studio. I get there and there's nobody there except for one little guy in this room with a guitar. And I said "Do you know where Sly is?" He said to me, "Hi, I'm Prince, I called you." I was very pissed. And that's how we met. (laughs)

And were you able to sit in with him?
Not that time! I was so pissed, I left. (laughter) I was all, "How dare you, who are you, anyway" and all that.

But did you get a sense of, later on, collaborating together…
Yeah, we did a CD together, Come 2 My House, at his studio. And we'd jammed together before that on stage.

Was there anything about his work ethic or his creative process that really stuck with you?
Absolutely. He is… a quintessential master at efficiency and self-trust. He trusts himself completely, musically. I know he trusts his musical sense. It's rare that you meet someone like that in a lifetime who fully trusts their instincts musically. We did a CD in two weeks time. Who ever heard of that? I was amazed. He was a guy who knew what he wanted and knew how to get it, and did it in a very short time on this earth