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Coltrane is one of seven children of a Canadian mother and a German violinist father. She played a number of instruments as a child. Her family moved frequently; her father died when she was ten. She gave her first piano recital at the age of 12. In 1970, she used two sidemen, an upright bassist and a drummer, playing jazz, funk and rock in local Chicago clubs and bars. In 1971 she represented the U.S. at the International Rock Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She appeared on "The Tonight Show" and "The Midnight Special".
Her first hit in the United States was "Thunder and Lightning," released in May 1972. By August it reached #17 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and #12 on the U.S. Record World top 100 record chart and U.S. CashBox top 100, #18 on the Canadian RPM magazine charts, and #4 on the German hit list. It drove her first album, Chi Coltrane, to stay on the charts for three months. The song "Go Like Elijah" also received considerable airplay, and held the #1 position on the Netherlands hit list for one month, peaking at US #94 (Record World).
After her first album was released, she released the album Let It Ride early in 1974 (on the Columbia label), Greatest Hits and Best Of albums in 1975, and in 1977 another album, Road To Tomorrow as well as Silk & Steel in 1981. She subsequently moved to Europe where she lived for a few years. She was voted Best Female Artist for two consecutive years. She released several albums on the Teldec label during the 1980s, including Live! in 1982 (it reached #12 on the European charts), Ready to Roll (1983) and The Message (1986). In the European “100 Best Musicians of the Century” list, she was listed in the top 50. Golden Classics was released in November 1996 (Collectibles label). She has done TV soundtrack work and collaborated with Tangerine Dream in 1991. She returned to Los Angeles in 1993, where she built a recording studio and worked with underprivileged groups.
In 2009 Coltrane resumed her music career, releasing a new compilation The Essential Chi Coltrane - Yesterday, Today & Forever. The collection featured material from her 1980s albums Live!, Ready to Roll, and The Message. It also contained three new recordings, including the title track which featured a Paul Buckmaster string arrangement. The album was initially made available at her website.
Coltrane's first comeback performance was a concert in Vienna at the Donauinselfest in 2009, where she drew 100,000 people. She then did a tour in the Netherlands in October 2009. Her CD went to #55 on the charts within two weeks. She then signed with Sony and did another tour in the Netherlands as well as a highly successful tour in Germany. She is now preparing for additional touring in Germany, and another tour in the Netherlands as well as a tour in Switzerland. She has committed to working next on a studio album of new material, to be released in 2014.