Women’s History Month: Chaka Khan

chaka-khan-06In the 1970s, a petite woman with a big voice, a thick mass of curls and larger-than-life charisma burst on to the music scene. Hers was a career destined to achieve longevity.

Yvette Marie Stevens, more commonly known as Chaka Khan, was born on March 23rd, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. At just the age of 11, she formed her first group called The Crystalettes with her sister Yvonne, drawing inspiration from such performers as Billie Holiday and Gladys Knight. At a later date, both sisters became integrated with the Afrro-Arts Theater and started another musical group entitled “The Shades of Black.”


In 1969, Khan’s life took a dramatic turn. She became more aware of herself as a black woman in a society that oppressed blacks; consequently, she became heavily involved in the Black Power Movement and worked closely with the Black Panther Party on the organization’s free breakfast program for children.

She renounced both her formal education and her name, dropping out of high school and renaming herself “Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi.”

In the 1970s, having performed with several other groups, Khan joined the band Rufus, which carried a signature R&B and Funk sound. The band’s 1973 debut self-titled album enjoyed modest success; however, it was their sophomore offering, Rags to Rufus, which made both the band and Chaka Khan household names. The smash hit “Tell Me Somthing Good,” penned by Stevie Wonder, was featured on the Rags to Rufus album.

in 1978, Khan made her first endeavor as a solo artist, releasing Chaka, her first solo project. The album was a commercial success, spawning such hits as “I’m Every Woman.” Both her solo work and her work with Rufus earned her Grammy awards in 1983.

During the 1080s, her career as a solo artist continued to thrive, and she released a string of successful singles, including the Prince-penned “I Feel For You,” “This is My Night” and “Through the Fire.”

Lightning struck twice for the song “I’m Every Woman” when in 1992, Whitney Houston, another dynamic performer, released a cover version for the movie The Bodyguard.

Having had a long and satisfying career, Khan continues to perform today, with her most recent major performance gig being the role of Sophia in the Broadway musical The Color Purple in 2008.

By: Danielle Dixon

Follow her on Twitter: @tooprettydani



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