Whilst not everyone will recognise the name Yvette Marie Stevens, it’s certain that the name Chaka Khan will bring forth so many grooves into the mind!

This incredible singer songwriter has won no fewer than 10 Grammy Awards during her 5 decade-long career! She has sold over 70 million records worldwide and earned herself the title of Queen of Funk.

Rufus Days

Chaka Khan was one of five children, three of whom had careers as pretty successful musicians. Khan was introduced to jazz by her grandmother, but she quickly developed a love for rhythm and blues.

She would first step into fame with a group called Rufus, who made many hugely popular albums. The band, and Chaka Khan in particular, caught the attention of Ike Turner (then-husband of Tina Turner, who is also featured on the Rockschool syllabus!). He wanted Khan to become an “Ikette”, but she declined, stating that she was happy being a part of Rufus, though his praise was a nice boost!

Solo Sensation

Fast forward to 1978, and Khan was releasing her first solo album with Warner Bros. Records. The album featured the disco anthem “I’m Every Woman”, a song that we’ve all boogied along with at least one time! You’ll be unsurprised to learn that this song sent the album platinum.

Chaka Khan’s sixth studio album contained the mega hit “I Feel For You”, from the album of the same name. The track had previously been recorded by artists like Prince and The Pointer Sisters, but it was Khan’s version that soared through the charts. It featured a harmonica solo by none other than Stevie Wonder, and a rap from Grandmaster Melle Mel. It sold millions in both the US and the UK, reaching number 1 in the UK charts! It’s safe to say that this song solidified her place in popular culture.

After the success of “I Feel For You”, songs like “This Is My Night” and “Through The Fire” also went crazy with the public. Following this, Khan collaborated with some huge names in music, including Ray Charles and Quincy Jones on a cover of “I’ll Be Good To You”, which earned both herself and Mr Charles a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

Khan’s epic collaborations didn’t stop there, and the next was with RSL Fellow and drumming sensation Billy Cobham, with a track on his album Drum ‘n Voice 3. A more recent partnership saw Chaka Khan and Ariana Grande sing “Nobody” from the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack.

Chaka Khan and Rockschool

But when it comes to the biggest hits of her career, here at RSL we’re most interested in “Ain’t Nobody”, which we’ve included in our Keys Grade 6 syllabus. It is without doubt that this is one of the most iconic keys parts you could ever play! It is truly so recognisable, with its distinctive patch sounds and the head-bopping rhythmic groove. The best way to practise this is to start by looping the left hand, then gradually introduce the right hand notes one at a time, starting from the first until you can build up to the full picture. This groove requires a really light touch so it doesn’t sound clunky and laboured.

We just know you’re going to have SO MUCH FUN with this one. We love seeing this in the exam room!

If you enjoyed learning more about the Queen of Funk, you should definitely check out her contemporaries like Tina Turner, Prince and Stevie Wonder.