American musician, singer and songwriter Chaka Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens on March 23, 1953 into an artistic, bohemian household in Chicago, Illinois. The eldest of five children born to Charles Stevens and Sandra Coleman, ] Her sister Yvonne later became a successful musician in her own right under the name Taka Boom. Her only brother, Mark, who formed the funk group Aurra, also became a successful musician. She has two other sisters, Zaheva Stevens and Tammy McCrary. Khan was raised as a Catholic. She attributed her love of music to her grandmother, who introduced her to jazz as a child. Khan became a fan of rhythm and blues music and formed a girl group, the Crystalettes, which included her sister Taka. In the late 1960s, Khan attended several civil rights rallies with her father’s second wife, Connie, a strong supporter of the movement, and joined the Black Panther Party after befriending fellow member, activist, and Chicago native Fred Hampton in 1967. In 1969, she left the Panthers and dropped out of high school, having attended Calumet High School and Kenwood High School (now Kenwood Academy).
She began to perform in small groups around the Chicago area, first performing with Cash McCall’s group Lyfe, which included her then-boyfriend Hassan Khan. She was asked to replace Baby Huey of Baby Huey & the Babysitters after Huey’s death in 1970. The group disbanded a year later. While performing in local bands in 1972, Khan was spotted by two members of a new group called Rufus and eventually replaced their singer Paulette McWilliams. They later signed with ABC Records in 1973. Prior to signing with the label, she married Khan, changing her stage name to Chaka Khan.
In 1973, Rufus released their eponymous debut album which contained a fiery rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Maybe Your Baby” and the ballad “Whoever’s Thrilling You (Is Killing Me)”. Then in In 1974 Stevie Wonder collaborated with the group on the song, “Tell Me Something Good”, which won the group their first Grammy Award. It was followed by, “You Got the Love” which helped their second album Rags to Rufus, go platinum. Between 1974 and 1979, Rufus released six platinum-selling albums including Rufusized, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, Ask Rufus, Street Player and Masterjam. Hits the group scored during this time included “Once You Get Started,” “Sweet Thing,” “Hollywood,” “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up),” and “Do You Love What You Feel.” The band gained a reputation as a live performing act, with Khan becoming the star attraction, thanks to her powerful vocals and stage attire.
Sadly Relations between Khan and the group, became stormy. So she signed a solo contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1978 and Khan released her solo debut album, which featured the disco hit, “I’m Every Woman”. Khan also featured on Quincy Jones’s hit, “Stuff Like That”. In 1979, Khan reunited with Rufus to collaborate on Masterjam, featuring the song “Do You Love What You Feel”. In 1979 she dueted with Ry Cooder on his album Bop Till You Drop. In 1980, while Rufus released Party ‘Til You’re Broke, again without Khan, she released her second solo album, Naughty, featuring the disco hit “Clouds” and the R&B ballad “Papillon”. Khan had a cameo appearance as a church choir soloist in The Blues Brothers starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Khan also released two albums Camouflage and What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me and appeared on three tracks on Rick Wakeman’s concept album 1984. In 1982, Khan released the jazz-oriented album Echoes of an Era and a more funk/pop-oriented self-titled album Chaka Khan. The jazz-inflected sing “Be Bop Medley”, also won Khan a Grammy. In 1983, Rufus released their final studio album, Seal in Red, after which Khan returned won a live album, Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live, featuring the song, “Ain’t Nobody”,
In 1984, Khan released her sixth studio album, I Feel for You. The title track, the first single released, was originally written and recorded by Prince in 1979 and had also been recorded by The Pointer Sisters and Rebbie Jackson. Khan’s version featured a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder and an introductory rap by Grandmaster Melle Mel. This became a huge hit and netted Prince the 1985 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. Other singles on I Feel For You included “This is My Night” and the ballad “Through the Fire”. Khan was featured in Steve Winwood’s 1986 number-one hit, “Higher Love” and was intended to duet with with Robert Palmer for the song “Addicted To Love”. In 1986 Chaka Khan released the album Destiny followed in 1988 by the album CK. In the late 1980s Khan released a remix album, Life Is a Dance: The Remix Project. In 1990, she collaborated with Ray Charles and Quincy Jones on a new jack swing cover of The Brothers Johnson’s “I’ll Be Good to You” which won her and Ray Charles a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By a Duo or Group. In 1992 Khan released the album The Woman I Am, featuring the R&B songs “Love You All My Lifetime” and “You Can Make the Story Right”. In 1995, she and rapper Guru had a hit with the duet “Watch What You Say” and she provided a contemporary R&B cover of the classic standard, “My Funny Valentine”, for the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. In 1996, Khan released her greatest-hits album, Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1. In 1998, Khan signed with Prince’s NPG Records label and issued Come 2 My House, followed by the single “Don’t Talk 2 Strangers”, a cover of a 1996 Prince song and went on a tour with Prince.
In 2004 she released the jazz covers album ClassiKhan and also covered “Little Wing” with Kenny Olson on the album Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. In 2007 Khan released the album Funk This, featuring, “Angel”, and the Mary J. Blige duet, “Disrespectful” which won the singers a Grammy Award, while Funk This also won a Grammy for Best R&B Album. The album also contains covers of Dee Dee Warwick’s “Foolish Fool” and Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times”. In 2008, Khan participated in the Broadway adaptation of The Color Purple playing Ms. Sofia to Fantasia Barrino’s Celie. In 2004, Chaka Khan was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. In 2009, Khan toured with singers Anastacia and Lulu for Here Come the Girls and was guest singer with the song “Alive” on jazz drummer Billy Cobham’s album Drum ‘ n voice 3. In 2010, she contributed to vocals for Beverley Knight’s “Soul Survivor”, collaborated with Clay Aiken on a song for Phineas and Ferb, and performed two songs with Japanese singer Ai on Ai’s latest album The Last Ai. In 2011, Khan was given the 2,440th Hollywood Walk of Fame star plaque on a section of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles as was Stevie Wonder, who had written her breakout hit “Tell Me Something Good”. Khan and her former band Rufus were also jointly nominated for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Recently, Khan rerecorded her song, “Super Life”, under the title “Super Life: Fear Kills, Love Heals” with Eric Benet, Kelly Price, and Luke James in tribute to Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was killed on February 26. A number of celebrities also joined in the recording including Loretta Devine, Terry Crews, Eva Pigford, and reporter Kevin Frazier. In 2012, Chaka Khan performed at a benefit for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF originally invited Stevie Wonder, however after a successful lobbying campaign by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Wonder withdrew and was replaced by Khan who was able to raise $14 million for the IDF. In 2013, Khan was honored 40 years after signing her first recording contract with a ceremonial renaming of Blackstone Avenue between 50th and 51st street (where her former high school, Kenwood Academy, sits) as Chaka Khan Way. the city also declared 28 July as Chaka Khan Day. In 2014, Khan served as grand marshal at the 85th annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic in her hometown of Chicago. In 2015, Khan was paired with professional dancer Keo Motsepe for the TV sereis Dancing with the Stars. In 2018 she released a new single called “Like Sugar”, a collaboration with Major Lazer member Switch and a new album Hello Happiness in 2019. Khan served as Grand Marshal in the 2019 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, 2019 in Pasadena, California.