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Memoir From Chaka Khan

What happens when an in-the-moment performer stops to take a long look back?

In her 30 years in the music industry, Chaka Khan has enjoyed numerous hits including "Sweet Thing," "Tell Me Something Good," "Once You Get Started," "Everlasting Love," "Do You Love What You Feel," and "Ain't Nobody."

Now the eight-time Grammy-winning artist has decided to tell all in her new memoir, "Chaka! Through the Fire." In the book, she shares good times and bad.

Writing it was therapy, she tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler.

She says, "I had to pull things back. I thought I remembered nothing because I'm such a next person and my main worry is how am I going to remember all this stuff I am going to need? But it's funny how much you remember and don't know it. And it was deep therapy for me. I brought forward a lot of demons, some I'm working on."

One of the things she said it was hard to confront was the absentee motherhood.

"I dealt with a lot of guilt, as far as I'm concerned. Up until recently when I decided, I can't feel this anymore. It's going to eat me up. And my children have been very cooperative as well," she says, "I left my kids with my mother when I was on the road traveling, bringing home the bacon and earning the money and my grandmother also helped a great deal, so we have a great matriarchal unit."

She also shares her great times with Rufus, the first multiracial band that really hit it big.

"Whirlwind," she says, "And as far as I can recall, overall, great times. But I think I formed a lot of my life philosophy around that time. At that point, I was in, like, my late teens, early 20s when we got together and I was looking at the world and seeing it in not quite the same way in which, like, a bank teller would see the world. I missed a lot of stuff. I missed out on relationships a great deal. I didn't have, almost up to this day. I mean I'm working so much. It's like ridiculous notion for you to even have a pet."

Read an excerpt from "Chaka! Through the Fire":


Prelude
A lot of people think it's a miracle that I didn't wind up like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin. And whenever I've been asked why I didn't, I have only one answer.

"Hell if I know."

I don't mean to be flip. But that's a big question, don't you think? I find there's usually no neat, quick answer for those.

It seems to me that life is part chance, part plan, part a whole lot of other stuff we don't half understand. About the only thing I'm certain of is that my life has been a series of "happenings" that have made me who I am. Sometimes, you don't get the significance of a moment until much later. But sometimes it hits you full-on — as it did at the 2001 Essence Awards at Madison Square Garden.

That year, the honorees included Venus and Serena Williams, the Hageman brothers for the school they created in Harlem, and Randall Robinson for his titan TransAfrica work. Sure, it's great to see good people get their props, but, truth be told, I was in a pretty funky mood. Sometimes I hate show business, and that's what these awards shows tend to have way too much of.

They can get pretty plastic. And by April 2001, I was definitely into keeping it real.

As I made my way to my dressing room, I came to the green room. For a beat, I thought about hanging in there for a while. Lots of people. Lots of faces. Some I didn't know; most, familiar. But truly all I saw were people profiling, styling — all I heard was noise. Nah. The green room was not where I wanted to be.

I headed on to my cubbyhole of a dressing room where Reggie and Mike would be ready to pounce: one to make my face; the other, my hair.

My granddaughter was waiting for me. Just the sight of her, in her perfect green chiffon gown, snapped me out of the blahs. Eight-year-old Raeven was my escort for the evening. What a quirky combo of lion and lamb -- like me as a kid. Like me, still.

Will Raeven sing, too? She sure has a voice.

Will she give my daughter the hell I gave Mama?

At that moment, Raeven was a wonderful distraction from all the waiting — waiting in the dressing room, waiting in the audience ... And I surprised myself by thinking, even briefly, about the future. As anyone who knows me would tell you, I've always been an in-the-moment gal.

Thirty or so minutes before I was to go on, I left the audience and headed backstage. A seat-filler took my place — bald spots wouldn't do as long as the cameras were working the room.

Backstage, more waiting, and my mind roamed. I was only half-watching the monitor when Samuel Jackson's better half, LaTonya Richardson, hit the stage and launched into this poemlike thing about children.

" ... fifty thousand gone in just twelve years ..."

Say what?

The "blood of our children," LaTonya proclaimed, "the screams of fifty thousand."

I knew my spot followed a segment honoring women who had lost children to violence, but I had no idea this thing would get so real, so close to the bone.

"Our communities are wasting into graveyards ... schools have become killing fields ... streets are strewn with spent clips." LaTonya took us all to task with a spin on "Word Up": "So we just wave our hands in the air, actin' like we just don't care ..."

From the book, " Chaka! Through the Fire," by Chaka Khan; Copyright (c) 2003. Reprinted by arrangement with Rodale. All rights reserved.