Chaka Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens in the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago's south side. Her mother was a practicing Catholic and her father was a beatnik. She recalled to The Guardian
: "My sister and I used to go on his nocturnal excursions by the lake in the park. The weed was thick in the air, the wine bottles were flowing, music was playing – as tight as it was, I had a pretty magical life."
Known as the Queen of Funk, Khan has won 10 Grammy Awards, including two as a member of Rufus.
At the age of 11 Yvette formed a Supremes-influenced girl group, the Crystalettes, which also included her younger sister Yvonne (later known as Taka Boom).
Her father remarried a civil rights activist named Coinnie who encouraged Yvette to speak at rallies; by the age of 14, she had been recruited by the Black Panthers after they started a program to feed poor children in her neighborhood.
As a songwriter, she has about 100 credits, but most of her songs were written by others. According to her longtime backup singer, Penny Ford, she could have a lot more credits. In a Songfacts interview with Ford
, she said: "I've heard things that nobody could have created but her. But because she can't be bothered with the whole sitting down and working out percentages and figuring all that out and dealing with that part of it - the non-creative part of it - she's probably been shut out of some things that she actually did create."
Yvette was given the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi by an African shaman, whom she'd met through her involvement with the Afro-Arts Theater group around the same time she joined the Black Panthers.
Her hardcore fans are known as "Chaka-holics"
When she was 17 years old, Chaka was offered a record deal, but as she was still legally a child, her mother needed to sign the contract on her behalf. When her mom refused to do so, she got married to her boyfriend, Hassan Khan, lying to her parents that she was pregnant. This is when she changed her stage name to Chaka Khan. They got divorced a short while later.
Khan's big break came in 1972 when she joined the funk band Rufus, who were looking to replace their previous lead vocalist, Paulette McWilliams. Two years later the Stevie Wonder-penned "Tell Me Something Good
" became the group's breakthrough hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974.
As Rufus continued to score hits throughout the 1970s, Chaka Khan became the focus of the band's image. She signed a solo contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1978, but remained part of Rufus until 1982.
Khan doesn't read music. Nevertheless she arranges her own songs, singing the notes she wants to the horn and string sections.
She was close friends with Prince – he wrote her 1984 hit "I Feel For You
" - and they regularly collaborated.
Her sister Taka Boom sang background vocals for several Parliament albums in the 1970s. She also fronted the Norman Whitfield group The Undisputed Truth for a spell, singing lead on their 1976 disco hit "You + Me = Love."