Chaka Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens in 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. She is the eldest of five children. Two of whom, Yvonne Stevens (aka Taka Boom) and Mark Stevens of Aurra, became successful musicians as well. At age 11 she and her sister formed at group call The Crystalettes
In the 1960s she joined the Black Panther Party and worked at the organizations breakfast program for children. It was at this time that she adopted an African name given to her during a naming ceremony at the Afro-Arts Theatre, Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi. In 1969 she left the Black Panthers and dropped out of High School and began performing around Chicago with her then boyfriend and soon to be husband, Hassan Khan, in the group Lyfe.
In 1972 she joined Rufus and the group later signed with ABC records. In 1973 she married Hassan Khan and adopted the stage name Chaka Khan. Rufus did not take off until Stevie Wonder wrote for them “Tell Me Something Good” that reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974 and sold over one million copies.
Throughout the 1970s Rufus continued their success releasing eight albums that went platinum. In 1978 Chaka Khan started her solo career with the release of Chaka that went on to be a hit record with the song “I’m Every Woman,” which was written for her by Ashford & Simpson and also covered by Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard.
With the success of her solo recording she still had two records to record on her contract with Rufus and recorded Camouflage and Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live. The latter featured “Ain’t Nobody” and won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The song remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 26 weeks.
In 1984 she released her sixth solo record I Feel for You, with the title track being the first single that was originally written and recorded by Prince. Chaka Khan’s is a distinctive version because of the introductory rap by Grandmaster Melle Mel and the harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder.
Another popular song that helped I Feel for You go platinum was “Through the Fire,” which was later sampled by Kanye West in “Through the Wire.”
Chaka Khan married her second husband in 1976, Richard Holland, and had two children. Her daughter, Milini, born in 1973 of her first husband Hassan Khan, and Damien Holland from her second husband.
In 1999 she formed the Chaka Khan Foundation that “educates, inspires and empowers children in our community to achieve their full potential.” The program also supports children and families with autism. “We envision that through our mission we will give children who are at risk, either through poverty or through health issues like autism, the ability to achieve their dreams and give back to the community.”
In 2004, Chaka Khan was honored by Berklee College of Music and received an Honorary Doctorate. It was presented by current Berklee College of Music President, Roger H. Brown, during his inauguration to the college. She is pictured here with Arif Mardin a long time collaborator, former Berklee College of Music professor, and Honorary Doctorate recipient.
Khan and Mardin won a Grammy for Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices for their work “Be Bop Medley.”
Over her three decade career Chaka Khan has released twenty-two albums, won ten Grammys, has seven RIAA certified gold singles, ten RIAA certified gold and platinum albums, and in 2011 was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame with Rufus and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.