Chaka Khan may be known as a groundbreaking singer, having fronted for the legendary 1970s R&B/fFunk group Rufus. But Khan, who was born Yvette Marie Stevens in 1953, was once a member of the Black activist organization the Black Panther Party.
In 1969 as a Chicago-based teen, Khan joined the Black Panther Party and worked on the organization’s free breakfast program for children. It was during this time that she changed her name from Yvette Stevens to Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi. Though it was thought she was given the name Chaka while in the Panthers, her name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi was given to her at age 13 before she joined the Panthers, Black Mail blog reported. The name was given to her by a Yoruba Babalawo, or a Yoruba priest, in a Yoruba naming ceremony. The Yoruba people are West African and mainly inhabit parts of Nigeria, Benin and Togo.
She also dropped out of high school around the same time she joined the Black Panther Party, a nationalist and civil rights organization founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in the late 1960s.
It was shortly after the organization was founded that Khan began attending civil rights rallies with her father’s second wife, Connie, who was a strong supporter of the movement. Khan decided to join the Black Panther Party after befriending BPP member and Chicago native Fred Hampton in 1967. She was 16 when she joined the Black Panther Party in 1969, MAJIC reported.
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She also sold newspapers for the Black Panther Party and worked in the party’s free breakfast program for children. The Black Panther Party Newspaper, also known as The Black Panther Black Community News Service, was published from 1967 to 1980 in San Francisco. It covered local, national, and international news as well as spreading the Party’s beliefs.
She married bassist Hassan Khan in 1970, and changed her name to Chaka Khan. She sang in various R&B groups, finally joining Rufus.” Later, she launched her solo career and had the blockbuster hit “I’m Every Woman.” Khan has won ten Grammy Awards and has sold an estimated 70 million records worldwide.
U.S. singer Chaka Khan performs during the “Thank You For The Music: A Celebration of the Music of Abba” concert in London’s Hyde Park, Sept. 13, 2009.(AP Photo/Akira Suemori)