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It’s been more than 25 years since Chaka Khan – award-winning singer, songwriter, and community advocate – first introduced the world to the music and lyrics that would change the recording world. Since her arrival on the scene in the early 1970s, Chaka has been setting standards in most every music genre: Pop, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Disco, Fusion, Jazz, Rap, Hip-Hop and even Classical.
Today, Chaka Khan is a musical icon, known and loved by millions of fans- who have grown up with her music or found a new love for it through the radio re-birth of the Old School sound. Over the years, she has perfected a style, stage presence and strong intimacy with her fans. They get up on their feet to sing along to the classic hits and stay on their feet while Chaka performs her new material. It’s a testament that Chaka’s career is still moving strong. It’s on the rise.
Chaka Khan first arrived on the music scene in 1973 as the lead singer for Rufus, one of the first multi-racial bands of its time. It was a time when the “real music” sound – featured by groups such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power and War – was strong on the music scene. With Chaka on the mic, the group – known best as Rufus, featuring Chaka Khan – earned one platinum album, five gold albums, five gold singles, five # 1 hits and two GRAMMY Awards. The hits of the time, still being sung by fans of all ages today, include “Sweet Thing,” “Tell Me Something Good,” “Once You Get Started,” “Everlasting Love,” “Do You Love What You Feel,” and “Ain’t Nobody.”
Chaka began her solo career in the late 1970s with the hit, “I’m Every Woman,” a tune written especially for her by the legendary songwriting team of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Since then, Chaka has recorded nine albums and been honored with five GRAMMY Awards. Her solo hits include “What Cha Gonna Do For Me?” “Clouds,” “Papillion,” “I Feel For You,” and “Through the Fire.”
Working with the best of the best in the music world has been a rewarding experience for Chaka over the years. It all started when Stevie Wonder wrote “Tell Me Something Good.” Since then, she has worked with some of the biggest and most outstanding music talents in the business – her dear friend Joni Mitchell, world-class producer Quincy Jones and R&B icon Gladys Knight, for example. She also has worked with those who have made names for themselves in other music genres from jazz to rock to blues, including the Manhattan Transfer, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Lenny White, Bobby McFerrin, Lionel Hampton, Eric Clapton, Fourplay, Peter Cetera, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Clarke, Ry Cooder, Bruce Hornsby, Guru, Phil Collins and Miles Davis.
Chaka’s latest collaboration with veteran rappers, De La Soul, on the single “All Good?” has saturated Billboard’s Rap Single Chart for more than 12 weeks and peaking in the Top Ten.
Her work has not been limited to the studio and stage. As a contribution toward her admiration and love for children, Chaka has recorded the theme song for Levar Burtons "Reading Rainbow," seen on the PBS television network. She’s also been inducted into the Sesame Street family, performing with characters Elmo and Telly. And she proudly performs for charity benefits that aid women and children in crisis.
In 1999, the Chaka Khan Foundation was established to offer drug and alcohol treatment and services; programs to help women and children transition out of a life of poverty; and support programs that assist battered women. The foundation also assists in the treatment and preventative education of HIV and Hepatitis. It also assists communities with their efforts to encourage artistic, cultural and racial expression as an effort to break down racial barriers. Of this endeavor, Chaka simply says, “It’s time to build up and time to give back.”
Chaka, an avid film fan, has also been involved with the recording of 15 movie soundtracks. She can be heard on the multi-platinum Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, performing “My Funny Valentine” for a new generation. She was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for her collaboration with Bruce Hornsby on “Love Me Still,” which was featured on the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s Clockers. For the Set It Off soundtrack, she teamed with Gladys Knight, Brandy and Tamia on the song “Missing You”. She sang on the soundtrack of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, and has also recorded songs for Miami Vice, White Knights and Moscow on the Hudson. Her latest soundtrack contribution, “Have A Little Faith in Me,” is the end title to award-winning writer Terry McMillan’s film adaptation of Disappearing Acts.
Chaka and Michael MacDonald have recorded the theme song “For Your Love” for the hit television series of the same name. The Yardbirds classic provided the two vocalists the opportunity to add yet another gem to their coffers of outstanding duets. Chaka’s duet with Ray Charles on “I’ll Be Good To You” and Steve Winwood on “Higher Love” were both GRAMMY Award winners.
Following the 1988 release of her CK album, Chaka relocated to Europe as a time of heightened personal and professional growth and reflection for her. She later served as executive producer for the 1992 GRAMMY-winning The Woman I Am. That same year, Chaka was presented with the Diamond Life Award for Excellence by the International Association of African-American Music (IAAAM). In 1993, she received the ASCAP Pop Award for the most played song – “Sweet Thing,” the hit song she wrote back in the 70s which has been recently covered by the Queen of Hip-hop, Mary J. Blige.
Over the years, she has also diversified her creativity by taking to the theatrical stage. She was featured in a lead role in the London West End production of Mama, I Want to Sing. It was a performance that earned her London’s 1995 Capitol Radio Listener’s Poll Award for London’s Best Actress. In 1996, the State of Illinois and City of Chicago declared October 19th as Chaka Khan Day. The same year, Chaka was presented Soul Train’s Career Achievement Award, the Lena Horne Lady of Soul Award.
She’s been recognized by some of the most influential and respected names in the music industry. Vibe Magazine called her a “power mover” and paid tribute to her “for her influence as an innovator and conduit of all musical styles.” The magazine further wrote, “She’s a Jazz life force, intensely weaving Pop, Funk and R&B” and thanked her for “the timeless body of musical works that she has contributed to the recording industry.” Rolling Stone magazine wrote, “Since Chaka Khan first dropped her flavor in the early Seventies with Rufus, her influence has spread exponentially, affecting singers who don't even know they're biting her style. Her voice is an instrument of knowingness, carnality, spirituality and intellect. Superstar Bette Midler called Chaka Khan “one of the greatest voices in pop music. It was a thrill to hear her live.”
Chaka has launched her own record label, Earth Song Entertainment, which got its name from “Earth Song,” one of Chaka’s compositions on the renowned “Ask Rufus” album. Chaka’s mystical lyrics celebrate her divine relationship to the sun, moon, heaven and earth. They also speak to the purity of heart and mind with which she begins each creation. It all comes together to present the label’s true purpose: individual artistic creativity. “Artists on the Earth Song label will be joint partners in their projects and jointly own their masters,” she said.
There’s also a feeling of family at Earth Song Entertainment. Chaka’s mother, Sandra Coleman, works as Chaka’s business manager. Chaka’s sister Tammy McCrary is her personal manager. Chaka’s daughter Indira (Milini) has seen success as the lead singer for Pretty in Pink and will be one of the label’s flagship artists as she embarks on her solo career. It’s not unusual to see Chaka’s first grandchild, Raeven, among the offices and studio. Likewise, Chaka’s son Damien, a student and aspiring record producer, is part of the scene, as well.
With her life harmonious and focused, Chaka is just as likely to be at a 1 p.m. meeting about her new foundation as she is to be starring at a 10 p.m. sold-out concert.