When I get excited about something, I start chanting “Chakakhan, Chakakhan” just like in the beginning of the Chaka song “I Feel For You”. What, don’t you?
I first got into Chaka in the 80’s when I was exposed to the Breakin’ montage wherein Turbo and Ozone try to teach Kelly to break dance while her cardigan-wearing dancer friend rolls his eyes in disapproval. During that scene, the crew dances to Chaka’s “Ain’t Nobody” (which is now my ringtone, thankyouverymuch). There really ain’t nobody like Chaka!
Chaka was born Yvette Marie Stevens in 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. She is a Contralto and is known as “The Queen of Funk Soul”. Take that, Mary! Yvette was renamed Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi by a Yoruba priest but had been previously going by just Chaka after working as a volunteer on the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children program in Chicago. (www.chakakhan.com/bio). Before joining Rufus, She was part of The Crystalettes, the group called Lyfe, and The Babysitters (replacing former lead singer Baby Huey). Around the time she joined Rufus with Kevin Murphy and Andre Fischer, she married bass player Hassan Khan, and the name Chaka Khan was born.
Rufus’ self-titled debut was not really a hit, but their sophomore album – Rags to Rufus – was. Their single “Tell Me Something Good” was written by Stevie Wonder, and it was a hit! Duh! (Stevie was behind sooo many hits, by the way, especially ones that no one knows he wrote). Most youngins these days have heard the Mary J. Blige version of “Sweet Thing” on Mary’s What’s the 411, but in reality, this song came out by Chaka Khan and Rufus in 1976, and it catapulted them into success. Chaka became known for her sultry red lips and her wild, vixen-like hair. And who knew she had such a tight little body back in the day! (see the “Tell Me Something Good” vid). In Rufus, she had 8 platinum-selling albums, and she gained even more success when she broke out on her own around 1978. She recorded her last Rufus album in 1983 (she was contractually obliged) (wikipedia), but the album also contained live versions of her own tracks, like “Ain’t Nobody”.
Chaka is still very active as an artist, and has been living in London since 2006. She has had 22 Grammy nominations (3 as a member of Rufus) and has won 10 Grammy awards (2 as a member of Rufus). She also stays optimistic about the music industry, unlike many older artists, saying
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 included Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” – which they took my vocals off of! We are working on getting it (and other tracks) all back now.
Release those recordings, Warner! And don’t wait until she has passed to do this, either. Record companies really ARE shady.
Fun Facts about Chaka
*Her most recent Grammy win was in 2008 for “Best R&B Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocals for the track “Disrespectful” by Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige.
*Chaka (along with Ashford & Simpson) was on the Quincy Jones album on the track “Stuff Like That”. Later on, members of Rufus played on the rhythm section on the Quincy Jones production of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You”.
*Khan has tracks on the soundtracks for the following films: Breakin’, Night Shift, Miami Vice, Krush Groove, To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, and Waiting to Exhale.
*Chaka recorded “I’m Every Woman” in 1978, which Whitney Houston later covered. Young Whitney was actually a background singer on Chaka’s second solo album, Naughty, in 1980.
*Jazz singer Betty Carter praised Chaka’s improv skills after Khan released “Be Bop Melody”. This song also went on to win a Grammy.
*The album called Chaka Khan is a rare collector’s item and is only available in Japan.
*”I Feel for You” was a rendition of a Prince song. The rap in the song (the “chakakhan” repeated over and over again) is by Melle Mel, and the harmonica part is played by Stevie Wonder.
* Khan was a co-lead and background singer for Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”.
*Prince produced Chaka’s 1998 album Come 2 My House (why Prince gotta always use the number 2 instead of “to”? why??)
*Chaka sang the hook on De La Soul’s song “All Good?”.
*Chaka received an Honorary Doctorate degree from the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2004.
*Khan played the role of Sofia in the Broadway version of Oprah’s “The Color Purple”.
*Kanye West used a sample of “Through the Fire” for his song about his car accident “Through the Wire”.
“Tell Me Something Good”
“I Feel for You” at Mount Fuji Jazz Festival
“Through the Fire”
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