Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chaka Khan and Rufus

Born Yvette Marie Stephens , raised Catholic ,she became a member of the Black Panther Party after befriending party member Fred Hampton in 1967. soon after she was given the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi by an African shaman. Dropping out of high school in 1969 , she began performing with the band Lyfe which included her boyfriend, bassist Hassan Kahn, whom she would later marry. Afterwards she was asked to replace the late Baby Huey in his band Baby Huey and The Babysitters after his untimely death in 1970. The band broke up soon after and she was approached by two members of a band known as Rufus to fill the lead vocalist position. She accepted and adopted the stage name Chaka Kahn. It was 1973.
 At this point, I cannot in good conscience fail to explore the fortunes of the band called Rufus . This worthy group of musicians were tragically stricken with a malady known as talented-charismatic-female-vocalist-leaves-band-by-the-side-of-the-road-itis , a disease that has claimed such bands as No Doubt , The Fugees ,Big Brother And The Holding Co. and others. The Black Eyed Peas are desperately battling this disease as we speak...but seem to be surviving.
At any rate ,Rufus was a funk band whose origins lie with The American Breed ,who had a top ten hit called "Bend Me,Shape Me in 1967. After the departure of a few f the members , remaining members Kevin Murphy and Al Ciner recruited replacements and carried on under the name Smoke . Paulette McWilliams was added on vocals and the band changed their name this time to Ask Rufus. (famed session bassist Willie Weeks was a member during this time). Drummer Andre Fischer returned to the band and singer McWilliams ,as stated earlier, got eighteen -year-old Chaka Khan to replace her. The group's name is then shortened to Rufus. The band's first album, titled "Rufus" tanked. Their sophomore release , "Rags To Rufus" , marked by an emphasis on Kahn's Voice and the personnel changes that brought guitarist Tony Maiden and bassist Bobby Watson to the band resulted in a platinum album and two hits , "You Got The Love" and "Tell Me Something Good" , which by the way,got them their first Grammy Award.
From then on, most of the group's tracks would feature Chaka Kahn and in short order she became one of pop music's most popular and critically acclaimed artists ,not to mention a bonafide sex symbol. Next stop , solo career.
To Chaka's credit , however she did maintain ties with her former band and occasionally re-united with them for gigs and recordings. And her solo success was well-deserved as was evident on her solo debut,which featured her soaring , Aretha Franklin-influenced range and power. The album included the crossover hit , "I'm Every Woman",an Ashford and Simpson composition that helped the album go platinum in 1978. The Rufus reunion "Masterjam" came in 1979 ,followed by 1982's jazz oriented "Echoes Of An  Era" and a funk-pop self titled release that contained the jazz-inflected "Bebop Medley" that showed off her impressive jazz and scatting chops ,won a Grammy and earned praise from venerable jazz legend Betty Carter.
During this somewhat experimental period in Kahn's artistic endeavors, she received much critical praise, however commercially there was a noticable drop-off. It was in 1984 with the release of her sixth studio album, I Feel For You that her career underwent a major resurgence. The album's title track was a Prince composition that featured a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder and an intro by Grandmaster Melle Mel. It went to #3 in the Billboard top 100 and remained on the charts for 26 weeks, well into 1985,  when it netted a Grammy Award for Prince as Best Song. Chaka Kahn herself has won 10 Grammy Awards , the BET Life Achievement Award , 2 Soul Train Awards , and many other well-deserved items of recognition. She also plays drums as evidenced in the following vid:
Chaka Kahn is my personal favorite r&b female singer ,and in my opinion no contemporary artist has matched her combination of chops, power,and diversity . A vocalist like her is a rare breed these days.

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