“You can’t argue with the universe,” powerful words spoken by the iconic singer, songwriter and musician, Chaka Khan. Known as the “Queen of Funk,” her illustrious career has spanned nearly five decades. Her career took off in the 1970s as the lead vocalist of the funk band Rufus. She was the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit featuring rapper Melle Mel, with “I Feel for You” in 1984. Chaka has won ten Grammy Awards and has sold an estimated 70 million records worldwide. She has an array of hit songs like “I’m Every Woman,” “Ain’t Nobody” and “Through the Fire.”
Born Yvette Marie Stevens, on March 23, 1953, in Great Lakes, Illinois, to parents Charles Stevens and Sandra Coleman. She was raised as a Catholic and attended Saint Thomas the Apostle Church in Hyde Park during her primary years. She attributed her love of music to her grandmother, who introduced her to jazz as a child. As a preteen she became a fan of R&B and Blues. Some of Chaka’s early musical heroines include Billie Holiday and Gladys Knight.
At age 11, she formed a girl group, the Crystalettes, which included her sister Bonnie (Taka Boom). The sisters later became involved in the Affro-Arts Theater. The theater was a multimedia venue that billed itself as “the only continuous valid black experience in the midwestern sector of the United States. The sisters, later started another musical group known as “Shades of Black.”
In 1969, Chaka 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. During this time, she left her formal education behind and officially left high school.
In the early 1970s, after performing with a few other groups, she joined the band Rufus, which had a strong R&B and funk sound. The world got its first taste of Chaka’s powerful vocals when the group released its debut album in 1973, which included hits such as “Whoever’s Thrilling You” and “Feel Good.” The follow-up album, Rags to Rufus (1974), was a smash commercially and critically. Stevie Wonder wrote 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. The band continued to have a number of successes over the coming years.
With Rufus, Chaka achieved four gold singles, four gold albums, and two platinum albums. In the course of her solo career, she achieved three gold singles, three gold albums, and one platinum album with I Feel for You.
While living in London in the 1990s, Khan branched out into acting, appearing as Sister Carrie in the musical Mama, I Want to Sing. She would later make her Broadway debut appearing as the character Sofia in the musical The Color Purple, based on the book by Alice Walker.
In 2003, she published, Chaka! Through the Fire. In it, she detailed her career as well as her years of substance abuse. She described the loneliness she felt while touring, as she was often away from her two children. This only compounded her sadness and guilt. Chaka told JET magazine, “I think a big part of my drug thing was escaping from those feelings.”
In December 2016, Billboard magazine ranked her as the 65th most successful dance artist of all time. She was ranked at No. 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 three times as a solo artist and four times as a member of Rufus.
AWARDS: & HONORS:
|1975||Grammy Award||Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo Group Our Chorus|
|1984||Grammy Award||Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female|
|Grammy Award||Best R&B Performance by a Duo Or Group With Vocal|
|Grammy Award||Best Vocal Arrangement For Two Or More Voices|
|1985||Grammy Award||Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female|
|1991||Grammy Award||Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo Group Our Chorus|
|1993||Grammy Award||Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female|
|1998||Soul Train Award||Lena Horne Award|
|2003||Grammy Award||Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance|
|2008||Grammy Award||Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals|
|Grammy Award||Best R&B Albulm|
|2009||Soul Train Award||Legends Award|
|2011||United Negro College Fund Award||UNCF Award of Excellence|
|2012||SoulMusic Hall of Fame||Inducted as Female Artist|
|2018||UK Music Video Award||Best Color Grading in a Video (Like Sugar)|
|UK Music Video Award||Best Editing (Like Sugar)|
“You can’t argue with the universe.”
“You’ve just got to follow your own path. You have to trust your heart and you have to listen to the warnings.”
“Spirituality has played an amazing part. Its been paramount in my life.”
“I can only give what I have. And when I receive, I give it back.”
“I won’t become a household word, or achieve the fame I deserve in my lifetime because of the way I look.”
“Every personal experience of my life impacts my music.”
“When I was in my twenties, it felt like I was riding wild horses, and I was hoping I didnt go over a cliff.”
“Getting a degree, being on Sesame Street… those were like real accomplishments to me.”
“I love to sing. It’s the easiest thing for me to do.”
“I mean, I’m not unhappy, but there’s still so much I want to do.”
ReCreate Model: Morgan Renae Myers
Photographer: Jasmine Mallory