The First Time I Heard…Chaka Khan





In 1984, breakdancing was all the rage. (If you missed out on this period of parachute pants, neon clothes and glow in the dark bracelets, I feel sorry for you. Maybe these things will make their way back around again). At the height of this craze, a movie called Breakin’ came out about three street dancers in California. I was obsessed with this movie when I was a kid. So when Chaka Khan’s video for “I Feel for You” came out featuring dancers from the movie, I was glued to the screen. I had no idea this was a Prince cover, or a cover at all for that matter, because it sounded so current: Turntable scratching, synthesizers and of course Melle Mel’s voice going “Chaka Khan? Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan?” (Fun fact: That’s Stevie Wonder on harmonica.) I also didn’t put two and two together that this Chaka Khan was also “Sweet Thing” Chaka Khan.


Charge it to my youth but for some reason I had a really hard time distinguishing R&B legends that made huge comebacks in the 80’s when I was a kid. “Ain’t That Peculiar” Marvin Gaye and the man who sang that song I was too young to know the words to, “Sexual Healing” Marvin Gaye”? Two different people. It just took a while for my adolescent mind to connect the dots. Although I grew up watching Soul Train, there was something about music videos that reintroduced a lot of the artists my parents enjoyed to me. Now of course I was familiar with Chaka Khan’s earlier hits. My parents raised my right. But to me, this was a new Chaka Khan. This was MY Chaka Khan.

Once I was able to connect the dots, it was clear. My favorite new song was by THE Chaka Khan; the same Chaka Khan that began her career around the mid 70’s with the band Rufus. Together they created some of the greatest songs in history with hits like “Tell Me Something Good”, “Do You Love What You Feel?” and of course the classic ballad with notes we’ve all strained to hit, “Sweet Thing”. With Chaka setting fireworks to every song with her explosive vocals, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan racked up five gold and platinum albums and two Grammys.


The hits didn’t stop when Chaka went solo in 1978. Her solo career brought us classics like “I’m Every chaka-khan-woman-i-amWoman” and “Papillon”. The legendary Miles Davis often said that she sang like his horn so it’s no surprise that Chaka later ventured into jazz. She released Echoes of an Era, an album of jazz standards in 1982.

In the 90’s she came out with the Grammy award winning The Woman I Am which featured the single “Love You All My Lifetime” and not to mention, one of my favorite all time album covers. Studio albums, Come Into My House, which was produced by longtime friend Prince for Paisley Park, and another album of jazz standards, ClassiKhan, followed.

In 2008, she officially had hits spread out over four decades when she returned with yet another Grammy award winning album Funk This, produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album features collaborations Michael McDonald (“You Belong to Me”) and Mary J. Blige on “Disrespectful” which also won a Grammy.



mary-j-and-chaka-khanChaka Khan is an international musical treasure and icon that continues to blow audiences away with her immense talent. While her influence on countless singers is absolutely undeniable, one thing is for sure: “ain’t nobody” like Chaka.

To learn more about Chaka Khan and how she has influenced America’s songbook, check out her page on Rivers of Rhythm.






Also, check out one of the most difficult playlists I have ever had to narrow down, this month’s “The First Time I Heard” featuring my favorite Chaka Khan songs. I even threw a Christmas song in there for you all. Happy Holidays!



Toya Haynes

Toya Haynes is a Philadelphia-area based writer who calls Music City her second home. Within the Nashville community, she is best known for her Kid Electric Concerts series which unites local musicians to pay tribute to iconic soul/R&B albums for local charities. The series has included tributes to albums by Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, and D’Angelo.

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