Queen of Funk: Chaka Khan

By: Demi Browder

Yvette Marie Stevens

Chaka Khan, known as the Queen of Funk was born on March 23, 1953 as, Yvette Marie Stevens, in neighborhood Hyde Park in  Chicago, Illinois. She currently is in Chicago, and has two children both adults. Born into an artistic household, she grew up heavily influenced by artists Aretha Franklin and Joni Mitchell. Yvette was the oldest of five. She has three sisters and one brother. She described her neighborhood as “a great city, very rich in terms of the arts, but it’s so racist it’s hard get to the friggin’ arts if you’re black.” At age 13, Yvette was given the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi by a Yoruba Baba (African Priest) which her stage name Chaka Khan stemmed from. Chaka Khan growing up was encouraged by her stepmother, a civil rights activist, to speak at rallies. The Black Panthers actually ended up recruiting Ms. Khan at the age of 14, where she sold Panther papers. But, when put in an uncomfortable situation she decided to leave the Panthers. After her activism life, Chaka Khan started to focus on her musical career. She dropped out of high school and began performing with small groups around Chicago. During this time Chaka Khan was noticed by two members of a group called Rufus, where she ended up being recruited, and her career took off from there.

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan

In 1973 “Rufus featuring Chaka Khan,” signed to ABC Records releasing their first album that didn’t quite receive the recognition they were hoping for. It wasn’t till singer-songwriter, Stevie Wonder collaborated with the group on a song initially written for Ms. Khan that gave the group a breakthrough. This song was known as, “Tell Me Something Good,” reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and awarded the group their first Grammy. While Chaka Khan was active in the group they had released six platinum albums, and received lots of attention and consistent fans due to Chaka Khan being the star attraction. She combined her powerful vocals, with her style and performance appeal that roped the audience in every performance. Although the band was doing great they had their ups and downs that led to a finally split between Khan and Rufus. Chaka signed a solo contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1978, while still in the group, but she was not as active. Finishing out the 70s and super early 80s Khan started to release more solo albums, while Rufus continued to release albums without Chaka Khan on them. It was in 1983 when Chaka Khan did her last live album, “Stompin’ at the Savoy-Live,” with Rufus, giving the group their last charting success on the Billboard Hot 100. Following the release the group separated for good. 

Now Introducing Her... Chaka Khan

Once Chaka Khan struck solo for good, she was a force to be reckoned with.  Her and producer Arif Mardin came out with a hit album after album, Chaka Khan herself proudly stating, “every song’s a motherfucker.” Although Khan was unable to read music she didn’t let that stop her. She adapted to what she could do and made it work everytime, by arranging her own songs and  interpreting notes she wanted the band to play through her vocals. All throughout her solo career it was never a problem for Khan to sell millions of records worldwide, get charted on the Billboard Top 100 with a charting always higher than 20, as well as receiving 19 Grammy Award nominations as a soloist and winning 8 of them. But just like everyone else Chaka Khan endured trials and tribulations going on behind the scenes. She was constantly in legal battles with record labels, “assholes… they didn’t know how to work me, what category to put me in,” she said flatly. Chaka Khan was a breath of fresh air, with natural stage appeal, vocal range and talent that was constantly boxed because of the uncertainty of how to use her talents. She longed for artistic freedom and once told they needed her to be like Mary J. Blige, she had decided she was done. 

The Queen and the Prince

Chaka Khan and singer, song-writer Prince became quite the friends after they met in the late 1970s. Prince ended up writing one of her best songs, “I Feel For You,” as well as contributing to the make of her album, “Come 2 My House.” Chaka Khan also signed to his NPG label in the late 90s after experiencing frustrations with previous labels. Chaka Khan and Prince both related to each other, especially when it came to daily life struggles and drug abuse. Chaka Khan openly struggled with cocaine, heroin, and alcohol addiction most of her adult life, but as she stated, “it was the healthy living that brought me through drugs alive.” So, when it was found Prince overdosed on Fentanyl on April 21, 2016, it broke Chaka Khan. She had no idea Prince struggled with painkillers, and it made her wonder how much she didn’t know about him because she truly believed she was his confidant and he was hers. Due to Prince’s death, it was a blessing and a curse for Ms. Khan because the loss of her great friend made her press play on abusing drugs again, but then she quickly stopped, checked herself into rehab because in that moment she realized she didn’t want to go out like her dear friend. 

The Queen of Funk and Her Successes

Chaka Khan is known to be the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit featuring a rapper, titilled “I Feel for You” in 1984. Ms. Khan has won a total of ten Grammy Awards and has sold about 70 million records across the world. While in her time with funk band, Rufus, Chaka Khan received four gold singles, albums, and two platinum albums. In her solo career Chaka Khan receive three gold singles, albums, and one album. Throughout her career she has collaborated with many notable artists like, Prince, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Rick James, and many, many more. In May 2011, Chaka Khan was given the 2440th Hollywood Walk of Fame star plaque in Los Angeles, California where she she accepted the honor with family. Lastly, Ms. Khan was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times as a solo artist, and four times as a member of Rufus ft. Chaka Khan.

The Influenced / The Contemporaries

  • Whitney Houston

 

  • Mary J. Blige

 

  • Erykah Badu

 

  • Janelle Monáe

 

  • Sam Smith

 

  • Brandy

 

 

  • Diana Ross

 

  • Teena Marie

 

  • Cheryl Lynn

 

  • The Whispers

 

  • Patti LaBelle

 

  • Evelyn “Champagne” King

Ms. Khan Today

Ms. Khan strongly believes she was put on this Earth to share her talents with the world until she physically can not anymore, so when the topic of retirement arises it is an automatic shutdown. Chaka Khan did take a break from releasing music and decided to release her first album in twelve years, “Hello Happiness,” in Feb. 2019. This album signified a new high in her life, as Ms. Khan expressed, “I’m a happier person these days… I’m achieving some things that I wanted for a long time.” She now works as a free artist, being able to release music when and how she wants to. Even to this day, when performing Chaka Khan gets nervous before performance, but it is the excitement that never leaves, reassuring her this is where she belongs. Ms. Khan has also taken the time to start, ” The Chaka Khan Foundation,” which was established in 1999 to push initiatives that assist and advocate for women and children at risk. Not only has she been a successful musician and dedicated philanthropist, but Ms. Khan is a determined entrepreneur as she launched a line of gourmet chocolates. She also hopes to launch her own handbag, hair-care, and makeup line one day. These days Ms. Khan spends her time being a total vegan, and will smoke cigarettes now and then. She spent most of her recent years raising her granddaughter after gaining full custody due to her son being incapable due to drug addiction. She describes her as, “my best investment,” and the fact that she couldn’t be anymore interested in music is satisfying to Ms.Khan. Her granddaughter aspires to become a doctor and Chaka Khan believes she is in the right place. 

 

Chaka Khan brought a confidence and presence to the funk world. Her talent was and still is something too hard to ever ignore and she made sure to never let anything or anyone take it away from her. Yes, Ms. Khan had her struggles, but she learned, sacrificed, and grew in order to be who her granddaughter needed her to be today. Not only did she make her mark in the music world, but she made sure to introduce herself to the community as well and fight for women and children in need. It is women like Ms. Khan who paved the way for current and aspiring female artists to be successful. Women still have some ways to go before they receive all the love and respect they deserve but at least they have a better start today than during Ms. Khan’s jumpstart. 

Discography

  • Chaka (1978)
  • Naughty (1980)
  • What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me (1981)
  • Chaka Khan (1982)
  • Echoes of an Era (1982)
  • I Feel for You (1984)
  • Destiny (1986)
  • CK (1988)
  • The Woman I Am (1992)
  • Come 2 My House (1998)
  • ClassiKhan (2004)
  • Funk This (2007)
  • Hello Happiness (2019)

Bibliography

Artist Website:

Khan, Chaka. Chakakhan.com, 2019, chakakhan.com/main-page/about/.

 

Interviews:

Lyubovny, Vlad. “Chaka Khan on Her Hits, Prince, Whitney, Rick James, Ariana Grande, Kanye (Full Interview).” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Oct. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA5qjZUoBh4.

 

Petridis, Alexis. “Pop, Prince and Black Panthers: The Glorious Life of Chaka Khan.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Feb. 2019, href=”http://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/feb/15/pop-prince-and-black-panthers-the-glorious-life-of-chaka-khan”>www.theguardian.com/music/2019/feb/15/pop-prince-and-black-panthers-the-glorious-life-of-chaka-khan.

 

Ryzik, Melena. “Chaka Khan on Artistic Freedom, Her Side Hustles and Joni Mitchell.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Feb. 2019, href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/arts/music/chaka-khan-hello-happiness.html”>www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/arts/music/chaka-khan-hello-happiness.html.

 

“Similar Artists – Chaka Khan.” Last.fm, www.last.fm/music/Chaka+Khan/+similar.

 

Platforms with her work:

“Chaka Khan on Apple Music.” Apple Music, music.apple.com/us/artist/chaka-khan/17402.

 

“Chaka Khan.” Spotify, open.spotify.com/artist/6mQfAAqZGBzIfrmlZCeaYT.

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