Chaka Khan (pronounced ; born , 1953) is a Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter best known for such hit songs as "I'm Every Woman", "Ain't Nobody", "I Feel for You" and "Through the Fire". She sang a modernized theme song for the popular children's TV show Reading Rainbow in the show's later years. Khan was featured vocalist in the funk band Rufus with hit songs, "Tell Me Something Good", "You Got The Love", "Once You Get Started", 'Sweet Thing", "Everlasting Love" and "Stay", before launching a solo career.
Early life (1953-1970)
Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens in North Chicago, Illinois. Her sister is dance music artist Taka Boom, and her brother is Mark Stevens of the band Aurra. Khan was raised on Chicago's South Side, and at the age of eleven formed her first group, the Crystalettes. While in high school, she joined the Afro-Arts Theater group, which toured with Motown great Mary Wells. She adopted the African name "Chaka" while working as a volunteer on the Black Panthers' Free Breakfast for Children program in Chicago. During a naming ceremony at the Afro-Arts Theater, a Yoruba priest christened her Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi (as stated on her official website). After quitting high school in 1969, Chaka joined the group Lyfe, before leaving to join another soul band, The Babysitters, replacing former lead singer Baby Huey. Neither group enjoyed mainstream success, but her fortunes changed when she teamed with ex-American Breed member Kevin Murphy and Andre Fischer to form Rufus. Around this time she married bass guitarist Hassan Khan.
Life with Rufus (1970-1983)
Rufus debuted in 1973 with a self-titled album on the ABC label. The first album failed to achieve commercial success. However, by decade's end, Rufus was among the most successful funk groups, rivaling the popularity of Earth Wind & Fire, The Commodores, War and The Ohio Players. With the help of Stevie Wonder, Rufus broke into both the pop music and R&B charts in 1974 with the Gold-selling hit "Tell Me Something Good". They followed that hit with another hit single, "You Got The Love", co-written by and featuring a then-unknown Ray Parker, Jr. on lead guitar, which propelled the album "Rags To Rufus" to Gold status by the summer of 1974. That year was a very good one for Chaka Khan and the group, for on the strength of the "Rags" album, a third album was hurriedly finished. Released in October 1974, "Rufusized" became their second Gold (now Platinum) album, containing multiple radio hits.
The fourth album, released in early 1976, was self-titled and contained the Gold single "Sweet Thing". This was the year that their "brand" was immortalized: Chaka's most prominent facial feature became the logo for the band: a big pair of juicy red lips. It came to epitomize the sound, the sexiness, and swagger of the band itself. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Rufus and Chaka Khan were rarely off the charts, having a plethora of memorable smash single hits and album favorites, including "Tell Me Something Good", "Once You Get Started", "Sweet Thing", "Hollywood" and "Everlasting Love", among others. The group earned eight platinum albums (Rags To Rufus, Rufusized, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, Ask Rufus, Street Player, Masterjam, Stompin' At The Savoy, and The Very Best Of Rufus And Chaka Khan) and three Gold singles with "Tell Me Something Good", "Sweet Thing" and "Do You Love What You Feel?".
As a sidebar, Chaka recorded a number of vocals for other popular artists of the period, including background vocals for the Chicago song "Take Me Back to Chicago"; background vocals on the popular 1977 single, "Save It For A Rainy Day" by Singer/Songwriter Stephen Bishop and a 1978 #1 R&B single "Stuff Like That" with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, on Quincy Jones Stuff Like That, his first Platinum album. Jones subsequently produced the final Platinum Rufus album "Masterjam" in 1979, yielding the Number one Gold single "Do You Love What You Feel". Members of Rufus rhythm section played on the Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson legendary single "Rock With You", which was released around this time.
1983 saw Khan return to Rufus to record her last contractually obligated album Stompin' at the Savoy - Live. The double album contained live versions of Rufus classics, Khan's solo hits and a handful of newly recorded tracks. One of these was the hit "Ain't Nobody", which returned Khan to the top of the urban and top 40 charts (#1 R&B #22 Pop). This song also came back into radio and club play due to its use in the 1984 Orion film "Breakin" which helped spark off the mainstream street dance era. To make room for the new studio tracks, Warner Brothers omitted live versions of "The Best Of Your Heart", "Hollywood", and "Everlasting Love" (the latter track was later released on the rare 1983 movie soundtrack to Night Shift).
Solo stardom (1978 - )
In 1978, Khan recorded her debut solo album Chaka featuring the Arif Mardin-produced disco anthem "I'm Every Woman" (#1 R&B, #21 Pop,), which was later covered by Whitney Houston. Chaka proved to be a significant hit on the strength of the single written by Ashford & Simpson.
Khan recorded backing vocals for Ry Cooder's Bop Till You Drop in 1979, then cut her second album, Naughty (1980), a huge hit on the R&B charts. The album featured "Clouds" (written by Ashford & Simpson), "Move Me No Mountain", and other songs that displayed Khan's range as a singer. The Naughty album also featured Luther Vandross, Cissy Houston, and a young Whitney Houston singing background vocals. This album is considered one of the great R&B albums of the decade. Chaka can be seen in a cameo appearance in the 1980s film The Blues Brothers, singing with the church choir behind James Brown as The Reverend Cleophus James.
Her next album, What Cha' Gonna Do for Me, was a gold seller and included two hit singles on Billboard's R&B Singles chart including the title song (which made #1 on the R&B chart). The album also featured the song "And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)" with Dizzy Gillespie & Herbie Hancock, which has Chaka hitting "notes that aren't in the book" according to producer Arif Mardin.
Also, in 1981, she appeared on three songs on Rick Wakeman's thematic album 1984.
In 1982, Warner Brothers released Khan's eponymous album, Chaka Khan, again produced by Arif Mardin. This album featured the single "Tearin' It Up", as well as Chaka's reading of Michael Jackson's "Got To Be There". "Slow Dancin'" (a duet with Rick James) was also featured, but her "Be Bop Medley" won a Grammy Award, as well as praise from jazz singer Betty Carter, who praised Khan for her improvisational skills. Chaka Khan received positive reviews, and reviewer David Bertrand Wilson of warr.org has said, "This generated many hits, and it's a lot of fun...her singing here is phenomenal". The song "Got To Be There", from the album, became an R&B top 10 hit. Chaka Khan is a rare collector's item since it remains unreleased on CD in both the United States and Europe and is only available as a Japanese import.
According to the 'Chaka's World' website, Khan was originally scheduled to duet on Tom Browne's hit "Funkin' For Jamaica(N.Y.)", and Dennis Edwards' hit "Don't Look Any Further" (which he went on to perform with Siedah Garrett).
In 1982, Khan recorded Echoes of an Era, a collection of jazz standards featuring performances from Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, and Lenny White. This project provided Chaka Khan with her first Grammy Nomination for Best Female Jazz Vocalist.
A New Idea: Fusion of Hip Hop and R&B and Collaborations
In 1984, Chaka released I Feel for You, a Platinum-selling album. This album was launched by its title cut, an Arif Mardin produced, Grammy Award-winning, hip hop-based rendition of a Prince album track with a cameo appearance by Stevie Wonder on harmonica and rap by Melle Mel. This Platinum single became the highest charting single in her career. Due to its popularity, a new trend emerged in the the worlds of R&B and Rap music, where fusing R&B and rap vocals on the same track became standard fare. Other standout tracks on the outstanding I Feel for You include the lush pop ballad produced by David Foster,"Through The Fire", which reached #15 on the R&B chart and had a 23-week run on the Hot 100 and , "This Is My Night" arranged by David Frank of the 80's New York based Funk-Synth band The System. "Through the Fire" has since been sampled by Kanye West for his hit single "Through The Wire".
With Chaka's hightened popularity in play, post-"I Feel For You", she became an in-demand guest on a number of popular soundtracks and recordings by her peers, including the Miami Vice soundtrack, "Krush Groove (Can't Stop The Street)" for the movie Krush Groove and co-lead and background vocals for Steve Winwood's #1 hit, "Higher Love".
Chaka's 1986 album, Destiny, an eclectic mix of dance, pop-rock, hip-hop and jazz, contained her #1 R&B Dance/Club hit, "Love Of A Lifetime". Also from Destiny was Chaka's turn at pop-metal "So Close" , which worked to good effect on TV Series Hunter.
In 1995, Khan teamed up with rapper Guru on his solo jazz/hip hop fusion collection Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality for the track "Watch What You Say". The song reached #1 on Billboard's chart.
In 1990, Chaka won another Grammy for "I'll Be Good To You", a duet with Ray Charles which rose to #1 on the R&B charts and was a Top 20 Pop hit.
In 1992, Khan released her album The Woman I Am, for which she received a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance. The album's hit single "Love You All My Lifetime" was penned by German songwriter duo Irmgard Klarmann and Felix Weber, and was produced by David Gamson. According to the "Chaka's World" website, Khan recorded a follow up album Dare You To Love Me, which was to be released in 1995. Warner Brothers postponed and eventually shelved the project (although several of the tracks appeared on a career retrospective titled Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 and soundtracks such as To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar and Waiting to Exhale (singing the standard "My Funny Valentine").
Khan soon left Warner Brothers for what she felt was a lack of promotion and after the label had decided to release the Epiphany compilation instead of the Dare You To Love Me album in its true form. Prince (who also feuded with the company) assisted Khan in leaving Warner Brothers. Khan eventually made a special agreement with "The Artist" (as Prince then marketed himself), and recorded her next album on his NPG Records label.
The Prince-produced Come 2 My House appeared in 1998 and reached #49 on Billboard's R&B Albums chart despite little promotion. Khan also appeared on new CD's by Prince and Larry Graham for the New Power Generation Label, and she toured in support of the projects.
In 1999, Khan recorded a newer version of the theme song for the PBS children's show, Reading Rainbow.
Although she sang at both the 2000 Democratic and Republican conventions, Khan says that she is more of a "Democratic-minded person".
In 2001, Khan sang on De La Soul's hit song "All Good?". In 2002 she was an integral part of the documentary about Motown studio musicians The Funk Brothers, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, in which she performed the classic R&B songs "What's Going On?" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (a duet with Montell Jordan). She won her eighth Grammy Award for the latter performance.
In October 2004, Khan released her cover album ClassiKhan on her own label EarthSong Records, and also through Sanctuary Records. The album of standards featuring the London Symphony Orchestra was recorded primarily at Abbey Road Studios in London and produced by Eve Nelson of Nelson-O'Reilly Productions.
On December 3, 2004, she received an honorary doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music. She is also active in the autism community, as she has family members who have been diagnosed with this condition. Her EarthSong Entertainment and Chaka Khan Foundation operate from Beverly Hills, California.
Khan's 2005's song "Let Go" originally appeared in the 2008 comedy film Roll Bounce as "Let's Roll". Matthew Knowles opted not to include "Let's Roll" on the film's soundtrack CD.
In early 2006, she signed with Sony BMG's new label Burgundy Records.
Embracing Christianity, Khan participated in a live all-star gospel concert recording for artist Richard Smallwood's "Journey: Live In New York" on the song "Precious Is Your Name". On her official website, Khan credits singer Karen Clark Sheard with being "the voice that helped me find the Holy Ghost". Khan performed a cover version of Sheard's "A Secret Place" along with Richard Smallwood on TBN's show Praise The Lord in October 2006.
In December 2006, Chaka recorded "Do You Hear What I Hear" on the Christmas compilation Breaking For the Holidays produced by Eve Nelson (who also produced Classikhan). The album also featured Vonzell Solomon, Sandra Bernhard, Ben Jelen and many more.
In February 2007, Khan headlined and performed at the NARAS 2007 Grammy Award official post party. In September 2007, she released Funk This, a mix of cover songs and original material. Produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and James "Big Jim" Wright, the album debuted on the R&B Album Chart, selling 35,000 copies in its first week. This marked her highest chart position since her first solo album in 1978 peaked at #1. "Angel," the first single from the album, reached #1 and went on become her first R&B hit in nearly fifteen years. Promoting the album on the Today Show on September 26, 2007, she performed "Angel", and also announced that she would appear in the role of Sofia on Broadway's The Color Purple. Another highlight of the CD is her cover of Foolish Fool, originally by Dee Dee Warwick, who died not long after its release.
Khan opened as Sofia, a role she says she closely identifies with, on January 9, 2008 along with BeBe Winans as Sofia???s husband, Harpo.
In a 2008 interview Khan said that she, unlike other artists, feels very optimistic about the current changes in the recording industry, including music downloading. "I'm glad things are shifting and artists ??? not labels ??? are having more control over their art. My previous big record company (Warner Music) has vaults of my recordings that haven't seen the light of day that people need to hear. This includes Robert Palmer's original recording to "Addicted to Love" ??? which they took my vocals off of! We are working on getting it (and other tracks) all back now." I
In that same candid interview with Elio Iannacci of the Toronto Star, Chaka Khan also revealed her plans for the following year, stating: "After I finish with my run with The Color Purple, I have a world tour planned, a one-time reunion gig with Rufus for charity. And then I'll be getting back into the studio to record another album, which will be out in 2009."
On July 4, 2008, Chaka Khan appeared on Good Morning America's summer concert series. She performed her popularly known songs and songs from her 2007's Funk This. On July 11, the same year, Chaka Khan made an appearance on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. December 6 she performed at the 2008 Aflac Christmas Party in Columbus, Georgia.
Khan has been living in London since early 2006.
It has been confirmed that Chaka Khan will be touring with Lulu and Anastacia throughout late 2009 as part of the Here Come The Girls - The Tour.
To date, she has had twenty two Grammy Award nominations (including three as a member of Rufus). She received 10 Grammy Awards (including two as a member of Rufus).
2008 Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals - Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige - "Disrespectful" Track from album: Funk This
2008 Best R&B Album - Chaka Khan - Funk This
2003 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance - Chaka Khan, The Funk Brothers - "What's Going On" Track from album: Standing In The Shadows Of Motown - Soundtrack (Various Artists)
1993 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - album The Woman I Am
1991 Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal - Ray Charles, Chaka Khan - "I'll Be Good to You". Track from album: Back On The Block (Quincy Jones)
1985 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - "I Feel for You" Track from album: I Feel For You
1984 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - Chaka Khan (1982 album)
1984 Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal - Rufus - "Ain't Nobody" Track from album: Stompin' at the Savoy - Live (Rufus)
1984 Best Vocal Arrangement For Two Or More Voices - Arif Mardin, Chaka Khan - "Be Bop Medley" Track from album: Chaka Khan (1982 album)
1975 Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus - Rufus - "Tell Me Something Good" Track from album: Rags To Rufus (Rufus)
Grammy Award Nominations
2007 Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals - Chaka Khan, Gerald Levert, Yolanda Adams, Carl Thomas - "Everyday (Family Reunion)" Track from album: Madea's Family Reunion - Soundtrack (Various Artists)
1998 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance - Chaka Khan - "Summertime" Track from album: Porgy & Bess (Joe Henderson)
1997 Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals - Brandy, Tamia, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan - "Missing You" Track from album: Set It Off - Soundtrack (Various Artists)
1997 Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal - Chaka Khan, Meshell Ndegeocello - "Never Miss The Water" Track from compilation album: Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1
1997 Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal - Luke Cresswell, Fiona Wilkes, Carl Smith, Fraser Morrison, Everett Bradley, Mr. X, Melle Mel, Coolio, Yo-Yo, Chaka Khan, Charlie Wilson, Shaquille O'Neal, Luniz - "Stomp" Track from album: Q's Jook Joint (Quincy Jones)
1996 Best Song Written Specifically For A Motion Picture Or Television - Bruce Hornsby, Chaka Khan - "Love Me Still" Track from album: Clockers - Soundtrack (Various Artists)
1987 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - Destiny
1986 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - I Feel for You
1983 Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - Echoes of an Era
1982 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - What Cha' Gonna Do for Me
1979 Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female - Chaka Khan - "I'm Every Woman" Track from album Chaka (1978 album)
1978 Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus - Rufus - Ask Rufus (Rufus)
2006 BET Lifetime Achievement Award (Recipient)
2008 BET Awards: Bet Award (nominated)
Lady Of Soul Awards
1998 Lena Horne Award (Career Achievement) (Recipient)
American Music Award Nominations
To date, she has had four American Music Award nominations.
1985 Favorite Female Artist - Soul/Rhythm & Blues (Nominee only. Award recipient was Tina Turner.)
1985 Favorite Female Video Artist - Soul/Rhythm & Blues (Nominee only. Award recipient was Tina Turner.)
1982 Favorite Female Artist - Soul/Rhythm & Blues (Nominee only. Award recipient was Stephanie Mills.)
1981 Favorite Female Artist - Soul/Rhythm & Blues (Nominee only. Award recipient was Diana Ross.)