Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens in 1953 in Chicago, Illinois. Khan says her love of music came initially from her grandmother, who introduced her to jazz as a child. Khan became a fan of R&B music as a preteen and at eleven formed her first all-female singing group the Crystalettes, which also included her sister Taka.
In the late 1960s, Khan and her sister formed the vocal group Shades of Black and joined the Black Panther Party after befriending fellow member, activist and Chicago native Fred Hampton. While a member, she was given a name change to Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi by an African shaman.
In 1969, she left the Panthers, dropped out of high school, and married bassist Hassan Khan in 1970. After this marriage ended, Khan kept her ex-husband's surname as a stage name.
Khan briefly sung lead for his band Lyfe, before she replaced the late Baby Huey as a member of the rock-soul group, the Babysitters, which disbanded in 1971.
Khan then was contacted by friend Paulette McWilliams to replace her in the rock/soul ensemble Ask Rufus, a group formed by The American Breed members Kevin Murphy and Al Ciner. Along with Andre Fischer and Ron Stockert, they would join the group in 1972 and the band shortened its name to simply Rufus. The band relocated to Los Angeles when Khan was 19 and wee offered a record deal with ABC.
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In 1973, Rufus released their self-titled debut album which did not do well. Then Stevie Wonder collaborated with the group on a song he had written for Khan, "Tell Me Something Good," which became the group's breakthrough hit, reaching number-three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974 and winning the group's first Grammy Award.
The single's success and the subsequent follow-up, "You Got the Love," which peaked at number-eleven on the Billboard Hot 100 helped their second album, Rags to Rufus, go platinum selling over a million copies. Between 1974 and 1979,
Rufus released six platinum-selling albums including Rufusized, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, Ask Rufus, Street Player and Masterjam. Hits the group would score during this time included "Once You Get Started," "Sweet Thing," "Hollywood," "At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)" and "Do You Love What You Feel."
The band gained a reputation as a live performing act with Khan becoming the star attraction, thanks to her powerful vocals and stage attire. Most of the band's material was written and produced by the band itself with few exceptions. Besides vocals, Khan sometimes played drums and bass.
Relations between Khan and the group, particularly between Khan and group member Andre Fischer, became strained. She signed a solo contract with Warner Bros in 1978.
While Khan was busy at work on solo material, Rufus released three albums without Khan's participation including Numbers, Party 'Til You're Broke and 1983's Seal in Red.
In 1978, Warner Bros. Records released Khan's solo debut album, which featured the crossover disco hit, "I'm Every Woman," written for her by songwriters Ashford & Simpson. The success of the single helped the album go platinum, selling over a million copies. Khan also was a featured performer on Quincy Jones' hit, "Stuff Like That," also released in 1978.
In 1979, Khan reunited with Rufus to collaborate on the Jones-produced Masterjam, which featured their hit, "Do You Love What You Feel." In 1980 Khan released her second solo album, Naughty, which featured Khan on the cover with her six-year-old daughter Milini. The album went gold and yielded the minor disco hit "Clouds."
Khan released two albums in 1981, the Rufus release, Camouflage and the solo album, What Cha' Gonna Do for Me. In 1982, Khan issued two more solo albums, the jazz-oriented Echoes of an Era and a more funk/pop-oriented self-titled album. The latter album's track, the jazz-inflected "Bebop Medley," won Khan another Grammy.
In 1983, following the release of Rufus' final studio album, Seal in Red, which did not feature Khan, the singer returned with Rufus on a live album, Stompin' at the Savoy - Live, which featured the studio single, "Ain't Nobody," which became the group's final charting success reaching number twenty-two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number-one on the Hot R&B chart, while also reaching the top ten in the U.K. Following this release, Rufus separated for good.
In 1984, Khan released her sixth studio album, I Feel for You, featuring the title track which reached number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number-one in the U.K.
Khan followed with 1986's Destiny and 1988's CK. Khan was also the featured performer on Steve Winwood's number-one hit, "Higher Love" in 1986.
In 2009, Khan hit the road with singers Anastacia and Lulu for Here Come the Girls. In 2010, Khan contributed to vocals for Beverley Knight's "Soul Survivor," collaborated with Clay Aiken on a song for the kids show Phineas and Ferb, and performed two songs with Japanese singer Ai on Ai's latest album The Last Ai.
During her career Khan's signature hits, both with Rufus and as a solo performer, include "Tell Me Something Good," "Sweet Thing," "Ain't Nobody," "I'm Every Woman," "I Feel for You" and "Through the Fire."
Khan continues to perform in the U.S. and overseas.