Why exactly has Chaka Khan still not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Since she emerged on the scene in the ’70s with Rufus & Chaka Khan, she’s been one of the most important vocal influences in R&B, soul and pop music. “Tell Me Something Good,” “Sweet Thing,” and “Ain’t Nobody” were all mega hits that have been sampled and covered umpteen over the years, becoming standards in popular music.
Chaka is undoubtedly one of the most important singers of the past 50 years, directly inspiring everyone from Prince and Erykah Badu, to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. “I used to run home and see everything she was on,” Prince, who studied the sensuality Chaka demonstrated on stage, once told the Philadelphia Daily News.
But it isn’t just her vocal chops that have made Chaka a living legend. Like most stars who resonate culturally for decades, Chaka’s power resides in her life philosophy and the way she exuded it on her records and on stage. In her early years, she was known channeling her spicy sensual energy into her live performances, while maintaining control of her imagery. She was powerful and fierce, demure and sweet in the same space, proving that women could be all things, any time they wished to be it. She was also one of the most energizing voices of the ’70s, as the country was struggling to morally define itself after the turbulent sixties, and the women’s movement was in full swing.
With an estimated 70 million records sold worldwide, Chaka remains one of the most sampled and covered artists in R&B and hip-hop music, has won 10 Grammys, and has influenced some of the most important voices of the past four decades. Her entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be a given. Here are five more reasons why.
Chaka Khan’s vocals have been respected and emulated by countless singers—from Erykah Badu (who has proclaimed Chaka her favorite singer on more than one occasion), to Mary J. Blige (who covered “Sweet Thing”), to Jazmine Sullivan, Lauryn Hill, and H.E.R. Prince called himself a “fan and fanatic.” Chaka covered his 1979 song, “I Feel For You” in 1984, for which she won a Grammy. Chaka set the vocal standard for pop, soul and R&B artists, because her vocals were able to straddle all three genres — full and lush at times, funky and electric at other, playful and sweet with the next breath. Songs like “Sweet Thing,” “Tell Me Something Good,” “Through the Fire” (later sampled by Kanye West) are just as vivid and infectious as they were when they were decades ago, proving Chaka’s vocal reign.
Chaka Khan helped set the bar for fiery feminist anthems with crossover appeal. Take her 1978 hit, “I’m Every Woman” from her self-titled debut, for example. It’s a pop hit that’s stood the test of time (it was covered by Whitney Houston in 1992) and exudes the power of womanhood. Chaka was a diva before it became a thing, a role that she fell into naturally because her music mirrored her life’s philosophy as an activist for women and black people. She was also a sex symbol, embracing her femininity with a brazen sensuality that would be mimicked by singers who came after her.
Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Maxwell, D’Angelo, Prince, Mariah Carey, Brandy — you can hear traces of Chaka Khan in most of the best singers who’ve emerged over the past four decades. As the Queen of Funk, she helped define ’70s funk/soul, and continued her success well into the next two decades.
She didn’t earn the the “Queen of Funk” title by accident. Rufus & Chaka Khan were one of the most influential funk bands in the ’70s. They had four consecutive No. 1 R&B albums, ten Top 40 Pop Hits and five No. 1 R&B singles before Chaka launched her successful solo career. To date, she’s sold an estimated 70 million records worldwide, in a career that’s spanned over four decades. She was also the first R&B singer to have a crossover hit with a rapper via 1984’s Prince cover “I Feel For You,” which featured Melle Mel.
She’s been sampled more than free chicken at the grocery store. Kaytranda, Kanye West, Eminem, Pitbull, Ne-Yo, Common Bigge—they’ve all sampled Chaka Khan. And that’s not to mention the times she’s been covered by other artists and scored them hits, including Whitney Houston’s 1992 cover of “I’m Every Woman” and Mary J. Blige’s 1992 cover of “Sweet Thing.”