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Chaka Khan returns on a weekend with meaning

ChakKhan performs Essence Music Festival New Orleans Sunday July 8 2012.  (Phoby Cheryl Gerber/Invision/AP)

Chaka Khan performs at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans on Sunday, July 8, 2012. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber/Invision/AP)

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When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph

Admission: Free


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Updated: July 26, 2013 5:15PM

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Chaka Khan headlines a free concert Sunday in Millennium Park. Funkadesi opens.

The last time Khan appeared at a free, late-July outdoor concert downtown, the headliners made headlines.

On July 27, 1970, Sly Stone failed to show up for a Grant Park concert (he had previously cancelled three other Chicago shows that year). The Sun-Times reported that that 40,000 people attended the concert on the hot, muggy day. Sly and the Family Stone were scheduled to play at 4:45 p.m., but reports said the crowd began surging forward at 4:15 p.m. The mob sprawled from the park across the Outer Drive, bringing traffic to a standstill. Khan was there as part of the Ask Rufus ensemble ( who went on to have a 1974 smash with “Tell Me Something Good”).

There were 90 people hurt and 148 people arrested in the riots that followed Stone’s no-show. Sun-Times columnist Tom Fitzpatrick called the riot “tougher and more vicious” than anything at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention.

Sunday’s free show is part of a weekend celebration in Khan’s honor, which includes the 2 p.m. Saturday naming of “Chaka Khan Way” for the strip of Blackstone Avenue between 50th and 51st streets.

Khan, 60, was born and raised as Yvette Marie Stevens in Hyde Park and attended Kenwood Academy. While she was in the Black Panthers, an African shaman changed her name to Chaka, the feminine pronunciation of Shaka Zulu, the warrior.

“I remember the [1970] riot,” the 10-time Grammy winner said in a recent phone conversation. “Sly was in a helicopter, but the helicopter did not land. When he saw the police let loose with the canine units it was too late. It was awful.

“Those were turbulent times. Those were my post-Panther days. I wasn’t really surprised that happened.”

Khan will front a 13-piece band and will cover her catalog, ranging from “Tell Me Something Good,” written by Stevie Wonder, and 1975’s infectious “Sweet Thing,” on through her latest single “It’s Not Over,” which features hip-hop artist LeCrae.

Will there be any Sly Stone covers?

“That’s not a bad idea,” she said. “I worked with Sly many times. I love him dearly and he’s still very capable. He’s one of the people that affected me musically in a big way. His music crossed over to everybody, and that’s how Rufus was.”

Khan said, “It’s just a way of me saying thank you for the city naming a street after me.”

Khan canceled a July 20 show in Miami in protest of the George Zimmerman acquittal. After Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, Khan did a remake of her 2007 hit “Super Life” that included a video with guests Angela Bassett, Eric Benet and Eva Marcille. The stars wore T-shirts that read “Fear kills and love heals.”

Lyrics included: “A mama’s cryin’ ‘Cause another young man has gone and died / He’s not some statistic / He’s another awesome destiny denied.”

“Violence in Chicago has been going on forever,” said Khan, whose parents were research analysts at the University of Chicago. “Many of our great minds are incarcerated right now. Chicago is a very progressive, artistic city; on the other hand, it is extremely racist. ‘Fragmented’ is a good word for Chicago, when it comes to social issues and boundary areas. I was very affected by that. But the city has so much to offer.”

Khan will appear Saturday at Operation PUSH headquarters to announce the partnership of the Chaka Khan Foundation with the Chicago chapter of the nonprofit organization Dress for Success. Mothers will be engaged to help change gang violence in the city.

“Children are our greatest assets,” Khan said. “We’ve found that going through the mothers as first teachers we help the children.”

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