Chaka Khan, I Think I Love You

Before hip-hop became a mainstream enterprise or grunge and alternative music even existed, before emo popularized guyliner or many of today's top-selling artist's were even born — a variety of musicians laid the groundwork for the genres.

Today's music scene and its occupants often look toward the past when thinking of the future. Sampling, remixing and cover songs have become commonplace, and many artists aren't shy about professing their acclaim for those who came before them — often by using their works directly.

Those initial singers and songwriters who began their careers as innovators now hold the prestigious position of icons.

Chaka Khan performed live as part of "GMA's" Summer Concert Series at Bryant Park.

Before Kanye West rapped his superstar-making hit "Through the Wire," Chaka Khan walked "Through the Fire." When the rapper sampled the songstress' smash 1984 song, it once again proved her staying power.

Yvette Marie Stevens grew up in Chicago and developed an early awareness of the creative and political moments around her. By age 11 Chaka had joined her first singing group, and at 20 she joined Rufus.

That pairing ignited her career and the pair belted out a catalog of classic hits like "Tell Me Something Good," "Sweet Thing" and "I'm Every Woman." Decades later, after Chaka Khan's successful solo career, the latter two singles found a new audience when they became hit pop songs for Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston, respectively.

Chaka even appears in the "I'm Every Woman" video with Whitney Houston, and she gives a shout-out at the beginning of the song to the emotive singer.

But Chaka has taken a hand from those she inspires. Her hit single "I Feel for You" actually is a Prince-written song that originally appeared on the Purple One's 1979 self-titled album. She made it popular in 1984, when she released her version.

Chaka Khan continues her success more than three decades after she entered the business with the debut of the new album "Funk This." The disc entered at No. 15 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, marking her highest-ranking album in 20 years.



Before Britney Spears parlayed being a virgin into an international, multiplatinum success, Madonna cemented her place in pop culture by singing about her chaste ways. Madonna broke onto the music scene in 1983 with her self-titled album, but it wasn't until 1984's MTV Music Awards that she would profess herself to be "Like a Virgin" in front of a televised audience. Dressed in a white wedding dress - yet seductively slithering across the stage floor - she set the stage for decades of female performers to delicately dance the fine line between "Madonna and the whore," the innocent and the fallen.

Two decades later, in homage to Madonna's famous matrimonial performance, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, two of today's top pop divas, donned wedding dresses at the 2003 MTV Music Awards, only to be upstaged by The Material Girl herself, as the groom. Both Spears and Aguilera, who were 2 and 3 years old, respectively, when Madonna debuted in 1983, have cited her as a major influence in their careers.

But don't forget about Jessica Simpson. Her 2006 song, "A Public Affair," had overtones of Madonna's hit "Holiday," so much so that when the song was released, Simpson told MTV, "I think people are ready to hear something that Madonna used to do," admirably citing Madonna's influence and longevity to stave off criticism of the songs' similarities.

Gwen Stefani, whose coif alone replicates Madonna's 1980's "platinum" chic, told Elle magazine in 2007, "A lot of my influence came from her early work, like directly, like a Xerox." From "Like a Virgin" to "like a Xerox," Madonna's definitely left her mark.

Dubbed by the media first as The Queen of Pop and later as The Mother of Reinvention, Madonna is one star whose influence and staying power has touched generations.



Michael Jackson's influence can be seen all over today's pop culture map. Watch any music video by nearly any solo star and dance breaks aren't just an aspect — they are a requirement.

The Gloved One's pop sensibilities are recognized in the dance moves of superstars like Usher, Chris Brown and Justin Timberlake — all of whom have named the "Bad" singer as an inspiration.

His ability to effortlessly glide across the stage while bopping to the beat and eagerly entertaining audiences set the standard for future wannabe pop stars — like when he announced to the world he was ready to leave the Jackson 5 behind as he moonwalked across the stage during the Motown 25 television celebration in 1983 when he performed Billie Jean. It said, "I've arrived ... alone."

Like Jackson, current pop heartthrob Timberlake similarly would try to leave his boy band days behind him with an MTV performance of his debut solo single "Like I Love You." His performance and the song's sounds drew instant comparisons to Jackson.

But he did more than make good dancing a must for upcoming artists, he made the brand new video music genre matter in a way it never had before, with innovative videos like the heavily lauded "Thriller," "Billie Jean" and "Black or White," which introduced morphing to the video masses. He was the first African-American artist to have video played on MTV.

Even current emo cover band Fall Out Boy paid homage to the Gary, Ind., singer when it performed his popular song "Beat It" this year. His dozens of awards, two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a previously unparalleled level of international influence, despite his personal problems, Jackson remains one of the industry's most heralded singers and performers.



Though arguably Whitney Houston's most famous song is a Dolly Parton cover ("I Will Always Love You"), the songbird with the distinctive pipes has etched her own musical identity.

Singer Brandy sought to mimic Houston's success when she began and said in several interviews how much she admired the singer. Accolades pour in from all over the industry. Even in her most troubled times, people saw Houston as one of the premier voices of her generation.

With movies like "The Bodyguard" and "Waiting to Exhale," Houston showed aspiring singers how they too could dominate the Billboard charts and the big screen. Singers like Beyonce, who starred in the very successful "Dreamgirls," have taken Houston's cue.

Even as she carefully crafts her comeback, some of music's most powerful producers, songwriters and singers have clamored to work with her. John Legend, R. Kelly and Will.i.am are just a few of the names attached to her new project.



And how about the gritty, grungy, garage-inspired music of today?

Blame it on the Sex Pistols, the London punk band that formed in 1975 and only existed for a few short years, before vocalist Johnny Rotten left the band in 1978 (and a year later, bassist Sid Vicious would die dramatically of a heroine overdose). But with only three years as a group, the Pistols, along with the Clash and the Ramones, helped to create and mold the punk scene for generations to come.

As a response to 1970's disco and pop, the Sex Pistols gave us "God Save the Queen," a scathing criticism of the English monarchy. While it was in no way the first critique by a band of its government, its controversial nature was a groundbreaking harbinger of punk's in-your-face style.

Where would the bands Green Day, Offspring or Rancid be without these vanguards? Jonny Rotten not only made gruff and rough vocals a standard in punk, his singular style spawned a mimicry of English accents in singers from Billie Joe of Green Day to Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs.

With only one album and a few singles ever released, the Sex Pistols prove that it's quality, not quantity.



At this point calling the Beatles the "Fab Four" is an understatement. This band not only produced record-breaking albums and continuously changed their musical style, they starred in movies and even served as the inspiration for a television show, "The Monkees," that sought to capture the magic and the energy of a hugely famous pop quartet.

Who carries their legacy? Perhaps a more appropriate question is, Who doesn't? Oasis', lead singer, Liam Gallagher, sounds like a direct vocal descendant of Beatles legend John Lennon, but the link doesn't stop there. Oasis' drummer, Zak Starkey, is the actual son of Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr, giving Oasis not only a stylistic link, but a genetic one.

The Beatles' rock legacy continues in bands such as the Arctic Monkeys and the Killers, both of whom give props to the Fab Four for pioneering a sound worth keeping around.



Diana Ross is one supreme lady. Named Female Entertainer of the Century in 1976 by Billboard magazine, this vocal phenomenon has not one but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- one for her involvement with the Supremes, the other as a solo artist.

With the release of the 2006 film "Dreamgirls," a whole new generation witnessed the phenomenon that was the Supremes, led by the hugely talented Ross from 1959 to 1968. Acted by Beyonce Knowles, who played the part of Deena Jones - the fictionalized Ross - the movie drew a direct link from the diva of the past to the diva of the present.

Beyonce's group, Destiny's Child, took the crown for "best-selling female group ever" from the Supremes by selling over 50 million records. She lists Ross' grace, ability to act and amazing vocals as an inspiration to her generation.

Fans and fellow musicians will always have an "Endless Love" for this vocalist.

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