The moment when a singer in a band releases their first solo work can be a make-or-break moment. But as Chaka Khan sang on her debut album Chaka, released Oct. 12, 1978: "Anything you want done baby / I'll do it naturally."
Since 1972, the expressive soul songstress had fronted Rufus, who rose to prominence with the Stevie Wonder-penned Top "Tell Me Something Good." Follow-up "Sweet Thing" further established the group - and Khan - as one of the top soul acts of the era. But tensions rose within Rufus' ranks: "Sweet Thing" featured on an album entitled Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, and her star power was clearly a draw. Shortly after the release of 1978's Street Player, Rufus' fourth album with Khan, she signed a solo contract with Warner Bros. Records - but the band did not wait up, recording 1979's Numbers without her.
Undeterred, Khan picked the best talent for her solo debut. Producer Arif Mardin presided over the sessions (kicking off a nearly decade-long collaboration with Khan), including contributions from guitarist Hamish Stuart and drummer Steve Ferrone of Average White Band and a horn section featuring David Sanborn plus the powerful sax-trumpet work of brothers Michael and Randy Brecker. George Benson delivered a smooth duet vocal on album cut "We Got the Love," while Rufus guitarist Tony Maiden laid down a solo on the album's closer, a gender-swapped cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her."
The album's unquestionable stand-out track was the disco anthem "I'm Every Woman." The track first took root in a songwriting jam by legendary writing team and real-life couple Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. "I started playing these chords, and he said 'I'm every woman,'" Simpson told Oprah Winfrey in 2012. "He said, 'I can't feel the verse.' And I said, 'Put your hand on your hip. Dig into your feminine side. It'll be there!'"
Amazingly, Khan initially thought she wasn't qualified to deliver the track. “That’s one of the world’s great songs, but I had to grow into it," she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2014, citing her younger age (only 30 at the time) as a factor. "It’s a song I feel comfortable singing now. But in the beginning it felt pompous.”
Audiences clearly disagreed. "I'm Every Woman" topped Billboard's R&B singles chart - her first of four singles to do so - and also reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song later became a Top 5 hit for Whitney Houston off the bestselling soundtrack to The Bodyguard. (Whitney's mother Cissy sang background vocals on Chaka's version; both women, along with Simpson, appear in Whitney's music video, in which she name-checks Chaka directly.)
Chaka rejoined Rufus for two more studio albums (1979's Quincy Jones-produced Masterjam and 1981's Camouflage) along with the group's final release Stompin' at the Savoy - Live, which featured the smash "Ain't Nobody." But Chaka Khan proved that her success as a soloist was imminent, and she'd be set to read every pop and soul chart from A to Z in the years to come.