Born Yvette Marie Stevens in March 1953, Chaka Khan sang songs written by Stevie Wonder and Prince as though they were crafted from her own pen. The Queen of Funk has a fiery soul about her and an undeniable rhythm that oozes from her pores. With hits from her collaborative years with Rufus and solo endeavors like "Tell Me Something Good" (written by Stevie Wonder), "Through the Fire" and the Prince-penned "I Feel For You," Chaka Khan made quite a mark as a performer.
Yvette Marie Stevens was born into a family of musicians and grew up on the south side of Chicago. By the age of eleven, she was forming singing groups with her friends and cultivating her love of jazz and R&B music. Growing up in Chicago colored the singer's view of a society that was plagued by racism and poverty.
She joined the Black Panther Party in 1967 upon befriending party Chairman Fred Hampton. After an encounter with an African shaman, Stevens changed her name to Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi (she would become Khan after a marriage to Hassan Khan).
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After performing with several local bands in 1972, Khan was spotted by two members of Rufus, who recruited the singer for their band. The crew signed with ABC Records in 1973 and releaed a self-titled album the next year, but it would be the Stevie Wonder written "Tell Me Something Good" that would win them the Grammy and the fame.
"Sweet Thing," along with "Hollywood," "I Feel For You" and others, became the band's biggest hits. Chaka Khan left the group and branched off into the solo arena during the '80s with the disco-inspired "I'm Every Woman," written by Ashford & Simpson, and later covered by Whitney Houston.
The influence of Chaka's vocal style can be heard today through artists from Erykah Badu to Mary J. Blige (remember her cover of "Sweet Thing"). Chaka's voice can go from slinky and sexy to searing and powerful (check "Through the Fire," later famously flipped by Kanye West). To this day, Chaka Khan remains one of the most prominent figures in funk. She won a Grammy for a collaboration with Mary J. Blige as recently as 2008, and has been honored countless times for her musical achievements.
February has traditionally been the month when the contributions from, traditions of and historical facts about African-Americans are celebrated. In honor of Black History Month, Backbeat will be celebrating iconic figures in the world of black music.