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.

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