Koko Taylor Dies

The lady known as the “Queen of the Blues” – Koko Taylor – passed away at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital after complications from surgery. She was 80.

Taylor’s death comes two weeks after the blues artist underwent surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding.

Photo: Chris McKay / concertshots.com

Born Cora Walton, Taylor earned the “Koko” moniker due to her love of chocolate. She played the blues for more than 50 years and some of her best-known recordings included “Wang Dang Doodle,” “What Kind of Man is This” and “I Got What It Takes.”

She also received seven Grammy nominations during the course of her career, scoring a gramophone statuette for best traditional blues recording in 1984 for her collaborative work on “Blues Explosion”

Born in 1928 near Memphis, Tenn., Taylor grew up in her family’s sharecropper shack. Her father wanted her to sing gospel, but Taylor had other plans.

“I used to listen to the radio, and when I was about 18 years old, B.B. King was a disc jockey and he had a radio program, 15 minutes a day, over in West Memphis, Arkansas and he would play the blues,” Taylor said in a 1990 interview. “I would hear different records and things by Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Sonnyboy Williams and all these people, you know, which I just loved.”

Taylor was orphaned at age 11, and moved to Chicago when she was 18. That’s where she met her future husband – Robert “Pops” Taylor. She worked as a cleaning woman for the wealthy during the day, and went to Chicago’s famed blues clubs during the evenings. Her husband would eventually become her manager.

“I started going to these local clubs, me and my husband, and everybody got to know us,” Taylor said. “And then the guys would start letting me sit in, you know, come up on the bandstand and do a tune.”

Taylor got her big break in 1962 when Willie Dixon got her a recording contract with Chess Records. Her million-selling 1965 hit – “Wang Dang Doodle” – is credited with launching her recording career.

“Blues is my life,” Taylor once said. “It’s a true feeling that comes from the heart, not something that just comes out of my mouth. Blues is what I love, and blues is what I do.”