Adeline is not just an ordinary fan of Chaka Khan.
“She’s my all-time favorite, my fairy godmother,” the lead singer of Escort tells SF Weekly. “She taught me how to own my voice. She’s amazing.”
The paragon of New York nu-disco has never yet met the 65-year-old Queen of Funk, although she believes that encounters like that do happen magically, of their own accord.
“In my mind, I would be dead of honor if I was invited to sing for a Chaka Khan tribute in front of her, and she would join me at the end of the song,” Adeline says. “Something like that.”
Born in France, she was exposed to a much wider range of disco performers than ever gained traction during the genre’s comparatively truncated heyday in the U.S. There was Claude Francois, also known as Cloclo, who only lived to be 39 but who nonetheless had a 15-year career as the French Elvis (with plenty of ABBA-esque trappings).
“He will forever remain the king,” Adeline says. “But he was a disco artist, this incredibly fit blond guy with sort of a really straight bob cut and the most amazing outfits. He had backup dancers that were always wearing leotards and sequins. It was the most fabulous situation. He also was one of the first people in France in the early ’70s that had Black women dancing behind him on TV.”
Adeline learned by watching, and today, her band Escort represents a sort of Euro-tinged, up-all-night Manhattan glamor crowned by her own icy eroticism and a little bit of Earth, Wind & Fire thrown in. With but two full-length albums in their catalog, the perfectly named Escort is a project of DJs who met in college and wanted to make music in line with the records they sampled.
Disco’s reputation in America is messed up to the point of sacrilege — yes, “The Hustle” is a goddamn embarrassment, and also representative of nothing beyond Van McCoy — so founding members Dan Balis, Eugene Cho, and Darius Maghen dredged up the loucheness and eliminated the cheese. Their sound is precise and sultry, as heard on magnificent cuts such as “Love in Indigo,” as well as on with newer singles like 2018’s “Josephine” and some thoughtful covers, like a version of St. Vincent’s “Actor out of Work” and even Wham’s “Last Christmas.” Then there’s the bubbly “All Through the Night,” which has nothing to do with the Cyndi Lauper song of the same name, and the video for which is all about the Muppets. Escort plays the Independent this Saturday, Nov. 17, with opener Sal’s Greenhouse.
With her tight melisma and air of slight unapproachability, Adeline is a proponent of the idea that disco isn’t so much a genre but an ur-genre, and when the peak of EDM steer electronic music toward house in the early part of this decade, she was right there waiting.
“It’s a little like soul music or funk,” she says. “You can find it in many different types of genres. It won’t be the genre that’s mentioned first, but it’s an underlying layer that’s present. A lot of albums are soul music, but they’re not labeled as soul; they’re labeled as urban or R&B.”
To that end,Adeline released her debut solo record, [ad•uh•leen], last week. At nearly an hour in length, it’s a funkier version of what she’s been doing with Escort.
“Probably the first thing I did is, ‘Let’s take a disco song and slow it down,’ ” she says. “I wanted to hear how it sounded to play a song that’s 120 bpm and play it at 85 bpm. … Disco was ostracized for a second and people moved on from it, and I wanted to show people that R&B and disco are really kind of the same thing.”
She recently performed on morning chat show Good Day New York, and if the sunniness of a.m. television sounds a little too wholesome for her oeuvre, her vocal-and-bass performance still has a low-key electrifying swagger that wouldn’t be out of place among bleary-eyed people reaching for that second cup of coffee.
“What’s funny is, I was on a daytime TV show for two years,” she says. “I was a member The Meredith Vieira Show on NBC. I was in the house band then, singing and playing bass.”
Calling Vieira an incredible interviewer — “she’s the sweetest, also like a godmother to me” — Adeline cites Vieira’s compassionate way of listening, which can make people feel like they’re the only one in the room when she’s speaking to her. It’s not something Adeline can necessarily apply to her own performances, though.
“I have to make efforts when I’m interacting with people in real life to be present and pay attention, because I get stimulated by sounds all the time,” she says. “I’m stimulated by visuals. … The best thing for me to do is not think about how you’re interacting. I don’t think; I’m on autopilot. Then, when I get to the stage, I can be looser.”
Escort, with Sal’s Greenhouse, Saturday, Nov. 17, 9 p.m., at the Independent, 628 Divisadero St. $17-$20; theindependentsf.com