Monday, August 15, 2011


There have been plenty of soul singers in history but there has only been one Chaka Khan.

There are many words you could use to describe her: wild, fiery, sexy, passionate and outrageous and while they are all certainly accurate but it's hard to properly articulate the feeling you get when you hear her sing or watch her perform. While she has been praised and admired over the years, I think she is still undervalued as a musical performer. So, this is my little part in shining a light on one of my all-time favorite singers.

She was born Yvette Stevens in 1953 in Chicago, Illinois and raised in the city's rough, Southside projects. Yvette was the eldest of five children with her sister, Yvonne who later became a singer under the name, Taka Boom, her only brother, Mark formed the funk band, Aurra and her sisters, Kathleen and Tammy, who is currently her manager.

Her first introduction to music was jazz by her grandmother and later to r&b. Yvette formed an all-female singing group, The Crystalettes which also featured Yvonne. Later, Yvette and Yvonne became a part of another band, Shades of Black as well as joining the Black Panther party in 1967. While a member, Yvette was given the name, Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi by an African shaman.

In 1969, Chaka left the Panthers, dropped out of high school and met musician, Hassan Khan who she later married the following year. Their marriage was very brief but Chaka would later join her ex-husband's band, Lyfe where she sang lead vocals before joining a rock/soul group, The Babysitters but they disbanded in 1971.

Chaka was approached by friend, Paulette McWilliams to replace her as the vocalist for the band, Ask Rufus. This Chicago-based group performed rock and soul that featured Kevin Murphy, Al Ciner, Ron Stockert, Dennis Belfield and Andre Fischer. The band shortened it's name to Rufus, moved to Los Angeles and signed a recording contract with ABC Records in 1972. By this time, Chaka was only nineteen years old. Rufus released their self titled album in 1973 and while the singles that featured Chaka's vocals attracted some attention on r&b radio, the album was not a success.

During the recording of their second album, Al Ciner and Dennis Belfield left Rufus and was quickly replaced with guitarist, Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson on bass. The group had recorded their version of Stevie Wonder's song, "Maybe Your Baby" on their first album which lead to him writing a song specifically for Chaka Khan to sing. That song, "Tell Me Something Good" was the lead single off of the album, "Rags To Rufus", and became their first hit single, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart as well as winning the group their first Grammy Award.

Rufus and Chaka would go on to release six more albums, between the years 1974 thru 1979, with each selling over a million copies that featured many hit songs charting on the r&b and pop charts including, "Sweet Thing", "You Got The Love", "Hollywood" and "Do You Love What You Feel?" As always, with success comes stress and tension, which grew between Khan and other members of Rufus. This eventually caused band members to leave the group between almost every album.

In 1978, Chaka Khan signed a solo recording contract with Warner Bros. Records although she made no plans to leave Rufus at this time. "Chaka" was her debut album released that year and included her smash hit single, "I'm Every Woman" which went to number one on the r&b chart.

The following year, Khan reunited with Rufus for the album, "Masterjam" which was produced by Quincy Jones. In 1983, Rufus and Chaka teamed up for their last album together, "Live: Stompin at the Savoy" that featured the studio recording, "Ain't Nobody (Album Version)". It became their final charting success, peaking at number twenty-two on the pop chart and another number one hit on the r&b.

Now, Khan focused on her solo career full time and on her sixth studio album, "I Feel For You", she released the title track in 1984 which was a remake of a Prince composition. The song, which features a Stevie Wonder sample and rapper, Melle Mel,  became a huge hit for Chaka Khan that topped the r&b chart and sold a million copies.

Chaka Khan has released eleven solo album during her career with her latest, "Funk This" which came out in 2007. She has won ten Grammy Awards including two as a member of Rufus. Chaka has been married and divorced three times and has two children, a daughter, Milini from her relationship with Rahsaan Morris and son, Damien with second husband, Richard Holland. She has battled drug addiction and alcoholism for many years but has declared herself completely sober since 2005.

Here are some of my favorite songs of Rufus featuring Chaka Khan:

"At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)' - Rufus & Chaka Khan (1977)

"Hollywood" - Rufus & Chaka Khan (1977)

"Do You Love What You Feel?" - Rufus & Chaka Khan (1979)

"Ain't Nobody" - Rufus & Chaka Khan (1983)

Here is the band performing their signature song, "Sweet Thing" on Soul Train:

Now enjoy a few of Chaka' solo hits:

"What Cha Gonna Do For Me?" - Chaka Khan (1981)

"Through The Fire" - Chaka Khan (1985)

"Angel" - Chaka Khan (2007)

This is the classic music video for Chaka's first solo hit song:

Chaka Khan - Im Every Woman (1978) from André Costa on Vimeo.


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