Wherever it came from – god, chemical chance, magic – Yvette Marie Stevens as she was born found herself in possession of one of those voices, the kind which can be recognised even when the chatter is up high and the music is down low. Powerful but controlled, emotive but not desperate, sexy but classy, the singer who took the name Chaka Khan (meaning “Woman Of Fire) and began her career performing in Chicago nightclubs would ultimately find her rigthful place as a twenty four carat soul diva.
After teaming up with Rufus in 1971 (Who imperceptibly shifted over time from band to backing group) a string of hits and chart topping albums followed, with Sweet Thing, Tell Me Something and Egyptian Song all setting standards few of their contemporaries could match. Eventually however the lure of going solo became too great to resist – the cover of 1977’s Ask Rufus featured an image of the singer alone, a clue to their shared future – and if her self titled debut released the following year wasn’t exactly conformation of a divorce, it was certainly marked a trial separation.
Produced by Arif Mardin and written by Ashford & Simpson, I’m Every Woman erased any lingering doubts about flourishing on her own terms. A song with the elegance of Diana Ross and spliced with the soul holler of Aretha Franklin, it would eventually transcend disco and be revived by a peak-of-her-powers Whitney Houston fifteen years later. That it took such an icon to even think about pulling it off was testament enough to the source material’s bewitching qualities.