Chaka Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens on March 23, 1953, in Chicago, Illinois. Known for her powerful voice, her great volume of curly hair and her charismatic stage presence, Khan first exploded on to the music scene in the 1970s. She formed her first group, the Crystalettes, with her sister Yvonne when she was only 11 years old. Some of Khan's early musical heroines include Billie Holiday and Gladys Knight. The sisters later became involved in the Afro-Arts Theater and started another musical group known as the Shades of Black.
In 1969, Khan became active in the Black power movement, joining the Black Panther Party and working with the organization's free breakfast program for children. Around this time, she took on a new name: Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi. She also said goodbye to her formal education, dropping out from high school.
Big Hits With Rufus
In the early 1970s, after performing with a few other groups, Khan joined the band Rufus, which had a strong R&B and funk sound. The world got its first taste of Khan’s powerhouse vocals when the group released its eponymous debut album in 1973, which spawned such modest hits as "Whoever's Thrilling You" and "Feel Good."
'Rags to Rufus,' 'Tell Me Something Good'
The follow-up album, Rags to Rufus (1974), was a smash commercially and critically. Stevie Wonder penned for the band the hit single "Tell Me Something Good," which sold more than a million copies. The group also scored a Grammy Award for best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus for the song.
Sweet Thing,' 'Ain't Nobody' Rufus, which was renamed Rufus featuring Chaka Khan and then Rufus & Chaka Khan, continued to have a number of successes over the coming years. The band scored a Top 10 pop hit with the zestful "Once You Get Started," and Khan helped write the single "Sweet Thing," which climbed to the top of the R&B charts and was also a Top 5 pop hit. Later hits included the introspective ballad "Hollywood," about the pitfalls of the famed locale, as well as the gleeful "Do You Love What You Feel" and the no-nonsense "Ain't Nobody."
Solo Albums and Songs
'Chaka,' 'Naughty' While she recorded with Rufus until the early 1980s, Khan debuted as a solo artist in the late 1970s. In 1978 she released Chaka, which featured the No. 1 R&B hit and empowerment anthem "I'm Every Woman," written by Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Khan's second solo album, 1980's Naughty, offered the popular singles "Clouds," also penned by Ashford and Simpson, and "Papillon (aka Hot Butterfly)." And in a twist of synchronicity, she won two Grammy Awards as a solo artist and one as a member of Rufus in 1983.
'I Feel for You,' 'Through the Fire'
The next year, however, Chaka the solo artist reigned supreme. Covering a Prince song, she made major moves on the charts with "I Feel for You," a Top 5 smash. Featuring one of the most famous rap cameos of all time by Melle Mel, the infectious track incorporated elements of rap, R&B and electronic dance music. It also won Khan another Grammy Award in 1984. Other hits from the album include "This Is My Night" and "Through the Fire."