Chaka Khan. She is every woman. :-)
Chaka Khan got her start as a soul and funk singer in her native Chicago, singing in different bands in the late sixties before joining the band Rufus. To say that she was the Rufus's lead singer is like saying that Paul McCartney was the lead singer of Wings. "In reality," music critic Russell Gersten wrote in 1979, "Rufus is Chaka Khan. No one else in the group has anywhere near her distinctive talent."
The group got off to a slow start in the early seventies, but fortunes for Rufus changed when Stevie Wonder attended one of their recording sessions and came up with a new song, "Tell Me Something Good." Chaka Khan's sultry delivery of Wonder's lyrics, with every last syllable enunciated, made it one of the biggest hits of 1974. Rufus scored more hits with songs such as "Once You Get Started," "Sweet Thing," and "Do You Love What You Feel."
Chaka Khan released her first solo album in 1978, which featured the Ashford and Simpson tune "I'm Every Woman," an instant R&B classic that Whitney Houston (honored on this blog when she was still alive) would cover. Not until 1983, when Rufus disbanded after one last hit ("Ain't Nobody"), did Ms. Khan become a full-time solo artist. Then came one of her biggest hits ever.
Chaka Khan was not the first person to cover Prince's "I Feel For You," but she recorded the definitive version (which is not why it isn't called "I Feel 4 U," as Prince called it originally). Her take on the song featured rapper Melvin Glover (known as Grandmaster Melle Mel) rapping a riff off Chaka Khan's name, addressing her in the second person and expressing desire for her in a fast-talking style that took advantage of the hard-k sounds in her name. Her old friend Stevie Wonder contributed harmonica solos, and even Barry Manilow dropped by to add backing vocals. Producer Arif Mardin sampled Stevie Wonder's own "Fingertips" ("Say yeah!") for good measure. In spite of all the big-name talent behind her, it's still Chaka Khan's record. It hit number three on the Billboard singles chart.
Chaka Khan has remained active since, with appearances on albums from Steve Winwood - she sang backing vocals on his song "Higher Love" from 1986's Back In the High Life - and Quincy Jones, whose 1990 album Back On the Block album featured our heroine dueting with Ray Charles on a cover of the Brothers Johnson's "I'll Be Good To You." And she's made many more records. Which goes to show you that whether in the high life or on the block, Chaka Khan always comes back.
One other thing as a postscript . . .. While not a rapper herself, Chaka Khan appreciated Melvin Glover's penchant for fast talk and quick rhymes. But she has wondered how successful he would have been riffing off her name on "I Feel For You" if she had continued to go by her birth name . . . Yvette Marie Stevens. :-) :-D