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Rashod Ollison

Rashod Ollison is an award-winning culture critic and a native of Little Rock, Arkansas. He earned a BA in journalism and creative writing from the University of Arkansas and has been a staff critic for the Dallas Morning News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Journal News in Westchester, NY, and the Baltimore Sun. He's currently the culture critic and entertainment writer for the Virginian-Pilot. His literary debut, "Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl," was published in 2016 by Beacon/Random House.

"Ain’t Nobody Feel for You: Black Girl Rebellion and the Voice of Chaka Khan"
Her sound stood out in the 1970s urban-pop world not only because of its power but for all it suggested.

Yvette Marie Stevens from South Side Chi-Town, who became Chaka Khan by her 18th birthday, had in some ways extended the soul singing tradition that preceded her. But in many ways, through her unique vocalization, she radicalized it. Steeped in the bebop she absorbed from her beatnik father and the rock music she sang in clubs during her drug-fueled teen years as a Black Panther, Chaka’s vocal style was fully formed by the time she debuted with the group Rufus in 1972.

Fellow Chicago legend and soul pioneer Dinah Washington and soul’s queen Aretha Franklin clearly paved the way for Chaka. But unlike them and many other female soul shouters of her generation, Chaka was not nurtured in the church. The nuances of her style – her pitch-perfect attack of notes and her elastic phrasing influenced by Joni Mitchell and Stan Getz’s saxophone – coalesce in a sound that is irrevocably urbane and black. Her image early on, the sexy mix of Native American-inspired skimpy outfits and accessible round-the-way black girl chic, gave her a brazen image she mostly controlled.

That image, voice and attitude fronted Rufus, a multiracial band of men, which also gave Chaka a defiant womanist edge. (She also wrote or co-wrote several of the group’s greatest hits.)  I aim to show in my presentation, through vintage performance clips and personal interviews with Chaka, how she embodied a radical black female politic and set a new precedent in soul singing that later opened the door for the likes of defiant soul sisters like Mary J. Blige and others.