Chaka Khan born Yvette Marie Stevens, March 23, 1953 is an American recording artist whose career has spanned five decades, beginning in the 1970s as the lead vocalist and focal point of the funk band Rufus. Known as the Queen of Funk, Khan was the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit featuring a rapper, with “I Feel for You” in 1984. Khan has won ten Grammys and has sold an estimated 70 million records worldwide.
In the course of her solo career, Khan has achieved three gold singles, three gold albums and one platinum album with I Feel for You. With Rufus, she achieved four gold singles, four gold albums, and two platinum albums. She has collaborated with Ry Cooder, Robert Palmer, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Guru, and Mary J. Blige, among others. In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked her as the 65th most successful dance artist of all time. Chaka Khan was ranked at number 17 in VH1’s original list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll. She has been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice; she was first nominated as member of Rufus in 2011.
In 1973, Rufus released their eponymous debut album. Despite their fiery rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Maybe Your Baby” from Wonder’s acclaimed Talking Book and the modest success of the Chaka-led ballad “Whoever’s Thrilling You (Is Killing Me)”, the album failed to garner attention. That changed when Wonder himself collaborated with the group on a song he had written for Khan. That song, “Tell Me Something Good”, became the group’s breakthrough hit, reaching number-three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, later winning the group their first Grammy Award. The single’s success and the subsequent follow-up, “You Got the Love”, which peaked at number eleven on the Billboard Hot 100, helped their second parent album, Rags to Rufus, go platinum, selling over a million copies. From 1974 to 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 Chaka Khan becoming the star attraction, thanks to her powerful vocals and stage attire which sometimes included Native American garb and showing her midriff. Most of the band’s material was written and produced by the band itself with few exceptions. Khan has also been noted for being an instrumentalist playing drums and bass; she also provided percussion during her tenure with Rufus. Most of her compositions were collaborations with guitarist Tony Maiden. Relations between Khan and the group, particularly between her and Andre Fischer,[who?] became stormy. Several members left with nearly every release. While Khan remained in the group, she signed a solo contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1978. While Khan was busy at work on solo material, Rufus released three albums without her participation including 1979’s Numbers, 1980’s Party ‘Til You’re Broke, and 1983’s Seal in Red.
In 1998, Chaka Khan signed a contract 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. She later went on a tour with Prince as a co-headlining act. In 2000, Khan departed NPG and in 2004 released her first jazz covers album in twenty-two years with 2004’s ClassiKhan. She also covered “Little Wing” with Kenny Olson on the album Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Three years later, after signing with Burgundy Records, Khan released what many critics called a “comeback album” with Funk This, produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis & Big Jim Wright. The album featured the hit, “Angel”, and the Mary J. Blige duet, “Disrespectful”. The latter track went to number one on the U.S. dance singles chart, winning the singers a Grammy Award, while Funk This also won a Grammy for Best R&B Album. The album was also notable for Khan’s 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 December 2004, Chaka Khan was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music during the inauguration of its president, Roger H. Brown.
In a 2008 interview Khan said that she, unlike other artists, felt 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 Bros.) 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 of ‘Addicted to Love’ – which they took my vocals off of! We are working on getting it (and other tracks) all back now.” In 2009, Khan hit the road with singers Anastacia and Lulu for Here Come the Girls.
In 2009, Chaka 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 the kids show Phineas and Ferb, and performed two songs with Japanese singer Ai on Ai’s latest album The Last Ai. Khan continues to perform to packed audiences both in her native United States and overseas.
On May 19, 2011, Chaka Khan was given the 2,440th Hollywood Walk of Fame star plaque on a section of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Her family was present when the singer accepted the honor, as was Stevie Wonder, who had written her breakout hit “Tell Me Something Good”. On September 27, 2011, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame committee announced that Khan and her former band Rufus were jointly nominated for induction to the hall. It was the collective’s first nomination 13 years after they were first eligible. The group were nominated partly due to Khan’s own storied reputation, including her own solo career in conjunction with her years with Rufus. 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.
On December 6, 2012, Chaka Khan made a controversial decision to perform 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. This support contrasted with her earlier support for the Black Panther Party that publicly supported a Free Palestine.
On July 27, 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 and on July 28 the city declared the day Chaka Khan Day. She performed at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion on the 28th. In August 2014, Khan served as grand marshal at the 85th annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic in her hometown of Chicago.
Khan has been married twice and is the mother of two, daughter Indira Milini and son Damien Holland. Her first marriage was to Hassan Khan, in 1970, when she was 17, which ended in divorce a short time later. Milini’s birth was the result of a relationship between Khan and Rahsaan Morris. Khan married her second husband, Richard Holland, in 1976. The marriage reportedly caused a rift between Khan and several members of Rufus, in particular, Andre Fischer. Holland wanted her to tone down her sexy stage image, but she refused. He filed for divorce in 1980, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Khan dated a Chicago-area schoolteacher in the mid-1980s in the middle of her solo stardom. Following their separation, Khan moved to Europe, first settling in London, later buying a residence in Germany. She lived in Germany for a while “in a little village in the Rhine Valley” and also in Mannheim.
Chaka Khan is vegan, saying she adopted the diet to lose weight and combat high blood pressure and Type-2 diabetes. In the past, Khan struggled with drug abuse and alcoholism. Her drug use, which at times included cocaine and heroin, ended in the early 1990s. Khan had an on-and-off struggle with alcoholism until 2005 declaring herself sober. In 2006, her son Damien Holland was accused of murder after 17-year-old Christopher Bailey was shot to death. Khan testified on her son’s behalf. Holland claimed the shooting was an accident and was found not guilty. Though she sang at both the 2000 Democratic and Republican conventions, Khan says that she is more of a “Democratic-minded person”.
In December 2011, she won permanent custody of her granddaughter by son Damien Holland, Daija Jade Holland, after reporting that Daija’s mother, Holland’s girlfriend, was unable to raise her due to her drug addiction.
Khan was featured in a 2013 episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories where she told the story of a shadow man who followed her on tour for years, until she met a guardian angel who admonished her to change her life or die.