Khan, Chaka (Yvette Marie Stevens)

views updated

Khan, Chaka (Yvette Marie Stevens)

Khan, Chaka (Yvette Marie Stevens), one of the great soul divas of the late 20th century (b. Great Lakes, III., March 23, 1953). By the time Yvette Marie Stevens was in the sixth grade, she was singing with a Motown-styled group, The Crystalettes. By the time she was 15, she was singing professionally, touring with Motown great Mary Wells as a part of the Afro-Arts Theater. She became involved with the Black Panthers, working with their breakfast program, and took on the African name Chaka (which means “woman of fire”) Adunne Aduffe Ymoja Hodarhi Karifi. The name “Khan” came from a brief marriage during those late teen years.

After working with several unsuccessful bands, Khan hooked up with former American Bre (the gold 1967 single “Bend Me Shape Me”) members Andre Fischer and Kevin Murphey, who were working in a band called Ask Ruf us. They moved to Los Angeles and within two years they released their eponymous debut album, which didn’t generate much excitement in the record stores. However, Stevie Wonder heard the band and wrote a song with Khan’s voice in mind. That song, a slow soul groove called “Tell Me Something Good” rose to #3, went gold, and earned a best R&B Duo/Group with Vocal Grammy in 1974. The follow-up single “You Got the Love” topped the R&B charts and hit #11 pop. The album Rags to Rufus lived up to its name, going gold and rising to #4.

In less than a year, the group was on the stands again, this time with Rufusized. This record launched the funky dance tune “Once You Get Started” to #10 pop taking the album to #7 and gold. Less than a year after that, they released another album. Because Khan was up front and the focal point of the group, it seemed appropriate calling the album Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan. That record also rose to gold and #7 on the charts, propelled by the gold #1 R&B hit “Sweet Thing” (#5 pop) and the #39 pop “Dance wit Me.” In late 1976 they released Ask Rufus which hit #12 and went platinum with the #1 R&B hit “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You)” (#30 pop) and the #32 pop hit “Hollywood.” Almost exactly a year later, they put out Street Player which rose to gold and #14. It contained the #38 single “Stay.”

Shortly after, Khan’s first solo album, the Arif Mardin-produced Chaka was released in 1979. She took an infectious dance version of Ashford and Simpson’s tune “I’m Every Woman” to the top of the R&B chart (#21 pop) and the album went gold. She spent the next five years splitting her time between Rufus and her solo career, including guest appearances on albums by artists ranging from David Bowie and Eric Clapton to Lenny White and Gladys Knight. Rufus’s popularity was fading, although they continued to produce hits, including 1979’s #1 R&B hit “Do You Love What You Feel” (#30 pop) and 1983’s R&B top charter “Ain’t Nobody” (#22 pop).

Khan, in the mean time, released 1980’s Naughty, with the dance hit “Clouds,” and followed a year later with the gold What Cha Gonna Do for Me which hit #17 powered by the R&B hit title track. She collaborated with members of Return to Forever, Freddy Hubbard, and Joe Henderson on the mainstream jazz record Echoes of and Era, an album that received critical praise but little sales or airplay. Her own 1982 outing, Chaka Khan, while not a major seller either, impressed her peers. The album moved easily from dance music to a bebop medley.

Breaking away from the band, Khan titled her next album, 1984’s I Feel for You after a relatively obscure Prince track. Her version paired the original’s spare electronic funk with a rap from Meile Mel of the Furious Five and a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder. That song topped the R&B charts for three weeks, hitting #3 on the pop charts, going gold and winning a Best R&B Female Grammy for Khan and a Best R&B Song Grammy for Prince. The album went platinum.

Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, Khan’s career had its share of ups and downs. Working with Quincy Jones on his 1988 Back on the Block album, she was paired with Ray Charles for “I’ll Be Good to You,” which topped the R&B charts, rising to #18 pop and winning a best R&B Duo/Group with vocal. Her own CK, produced by Prince, didn’t fare as well. Her 1992 album The Woman I Am earned her another Best R&B Female Vocal Grammy. Ironically, after that victory, she spent the rest of the decade looking for a label until Prince signed her to his NPG records for Come 2 My House, which he co-produced and co-wrote in 1998. Khan currently is working as a deejay at a Los Angeles radio station. Her daughter heads the band Pretty in Pink, which recently was signed to record its first album.


Chaka (1979); Naughty (1980); What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me (1981); Chaka Khan (1982); I Feel for You (1984);Destiny(1986); C.K. (1988); Life Is a Ounce (1989); Life Is a Dance (The Remix Project) (1989); The Woman I Am (1992); Come 2 My House (1998). RUFUS: Rufus (1973); Rags to Rufus (1974); Rufu-sized (1974); Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan (1975); asa:Rufus (1977); Street Player (1978); Numbers (1979); Masterjam (1979); Party ’Til You’re Broke (1981); Camouflage (1981); Lziœ Stompin’ at the Savoy (1983).

—Hank Bordowitz