Performing Under The Influence? Chaka Khan Disaster At The Rose Parade

I know it must be very difficult to follow the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade entertainment lineup which included John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, and Pentatonix, and Musical Theater excerpts, but you would think they could have acquired a more top shelf performer than Chaka Khan to kick off the 2019 Rose Parade– I guess it is about the roses and floats, not the entertainment in Pasadena these days.

I am not particularly a Chaka Khan fan, but I would be satisfied with a quality performance (pre-2010) like she has had in the past. She could croon very nicely to standards like “My Funny Valentine” and “Summertime”, and scat like there’s no tomorrow. I am trying to figure out what happened to her at the Rose Parade performance. Having studied her earlier Jazz and R and B performances, she was not on her game at the Rose Parade. This is unfortunately not unusual lately, because she had a sad performance in March of 2018 at Atlanta’s Jazz Festival as well. In both cases, fans charged her with “PUI–Performing Under the Influence”. The March performance ended in a fan walk-out for what they suspected to be drug or alcohol abuse. Some say she was sick and a few applauded her for singing live and not lip synching. Something clearly was wrong, she was not staying with the tempo of the music, was off pitch and sounded hoarse. I know she is 65 years old, but age should have nothing to do with it.

Some of the fans’ comments on the Rose Parade performance were:

“…what just happened at the Rose Bowl was an abomination”

“Chaka Khan sounds hoarse”

“Chaka Khan should never sing live. Ever.”

“Did anyone do a sound check? Love her, not this performance….”

“Either Chaka Khan is drunk or her in ear monitor is off’

And the list goes on…

On the other hand, Anne Marie (age 27), looking sharp in all white and sounding sober, did a fine job entertaining the young audience. On the chorus of the song “2002” which she had collaborated with Ed Sheeran to write, the fans were bobbing up and down and enjoying the performance. It was nothing earth-shattering, she sounded a little hoarse, but a solid performance.

As always, I like to be practical for my readers. How can we learn from the successes and mishaps of others?

1. Make sure your monitors are working. Especially in outdoor performances, make sure you are hearing the background music without delay so when you sing, you are not behind the music like Chaka Khan was. With my performers, especially the younger less experienced ones, I DEMAND that they get a sound check to make SURE they can hear the accompaniment.

2. Make sure you are rested, sober, warmed up, and on your game, after all, when performing you are at WORK!. This is not all fun and games as a professional singer.

3. As for being hoarse, this is why studying with an experienced, quality voice coach is essential. If you sing with incorrect technique you can damage your vocal cords and sound hoarse for the rest of your life! If you have a voice teacher encouraging you to sing when it makes your voice physically hurt, FIRE him/her!

4. Make sure your voice gets enough water and rest, especially if you perform on a daily basis.

5. Your appearance DOES matter! Wear something that makes you LOOK and FEEL GOOD! Usually a plain color is best especially when you are surrounded by a lot of back up people who are colorful. Sometimes as a professional you don’t have the final say in costuming, but a good costume designer should be able to help you with this.

6. Interact with the audience—enjoy them!! They WANT to have a FUN time, so have fun with them too. This is something I believe Anne Marie did well in this performance. She laughed with them and let them “perform” with her!

Being a Musical Theater fan myself, I would have opted to see “Mean Girls’ or “My Fair Lady” at the Macy’s parade in New York, but it doesn’t matter the style of entertainment, as a performer you need to put your BEST foot forward EVERY performance, no matter what your age or experience level. That is my nugget of wisdom for you, the readers, and future entertainers out there!

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