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Koko Taylor

Accurately dubbed "the Queen of Chicago blues" (and sometimes just the blues in general), Koko Taylor helped keep the tradition of big-voiced, brassy female blues belters alive, recasting the spirits of early legends like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, and Memphis Minnie for the modern age. Taylor's rough, raw vocals were perfect for the swaggering new electrified era of the blues, and her massive hit "Wang Dang Doodle" served notice that male dominance in the blues wasn't as exclusive as it seemed. After a productive initial stint on Chess, Taylor spent several decades on the prominent contemporary blues label Alligator, going on to win more W.C. Handy Awards than any other female performer in history, and establishing herself as far and away the greatest female blues singer of her time.

Koko was born Cora Walton on September 28, 1928, on a sharecropper's farm in Memphis, TN. Her mother died in 1939, and she and her siblings grew up helping their father in the fields; she got the nickname "Koko" because of her love of chocolate. Koko began singing gospel music in a local Baptist church; inspired by the music they heard on the radio, she and her siblings also played blues on makeshift instruments. In 1953, Koko married truck driver Robert "Pops" Taylor and moved with him to Chicago to look for work; settling on the South Side, Pops worked in a slaughterhouse and Koko got a job as a housemaid. The Taylors often played blues songs together at night, and frequented the bustling South Side blues clubs whenever they could; Pops encouraged Koko to sit in with some of the bands, and her singing -- which reflected not only the classic female blues shouters, but contemporaries Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf -- quickly made a name for her. In 1962, Taylor met legendary Chess Records songwriter/producer/bassist Willie Dixon, who was so impressed with her live performance that he took her under his wing. He produced her 1963 debut single, "Honky Tonky," for the small USA label, then secured her a recording contract with Chess.

Taylor made her recording debut for Chess in 1964 and hit it big the following year with the Dixon-penned "Wang Dang Doodle," which sold over a million copies and hit number four on the R&B charts. It became her signature song forever after, and it was also the last Chess single to hit the R&B Top Ten. Demand for Taylor's live act skyrocketed, even though none of her follow-ups sold as well, and as the blues audience began to shift from black to white, the relatively new Taylor became one of the first Chicago blues artists to command a following on the city's white-dominated North Side. Eventually, she and her husband were able to quit their day jobs, and he served as her manager; she also put together a backing band called the Blues Machine. With the release of two albums -- 1969's Koko Taylor, which featured a number of her previous singles; and 1972's Basic Soul -- Taylor's live gigs kept branching out further and further from Chicago, and when she played the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, the resulting live album on Atlantic helped bring her to a more national audience.

By the early '70s, Chess Records was floundering financially, and eventually went under in 1975. Taylor signed with a then-young Chicago-based label called Alligator, which grew into one of America's most prominent blues labels over the years. Taylor debuted for Alligator in 1975 with I Got What It Takes, an acclaimed effort that garnered her first Grammy nomination. Her 1978 follow-up, The Earthshaker, featured several tunes that became staples of her live show, including "I'm a Woman" and "Hey Bartender," and her popularity on the blues circuit just kept growing in spite of the music's commercial decline. In 1980, she won the first of an incredible string of W.C. Handy Awards (for Best Contemporary Female Artist), and over the next two decades, she would capture at least one more almost every year (save for 1989, 1997, and 1998). 1981 brought From the Heart of a Woman, and in 1984, Taylor won her first Grammy thanks to her appearance on Atlantic's various-artists compilation Blues Explosion, which was named Best Traditional Blues Album. She followed that success with the guest-laden Queen of the Blues in 1985, which won her a couple extra Handy Awards for Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year (no "female" qualifier attached). In 1987, she released her first domestic live album, Live in Chicago: An Audience With the Queen.

Tragedy struck in 1988. Taylor broke her shoulder, collarbone, and several ribs in a van accident while on tour, and her husband went into cardiac arrest; although Pops survived for the time being, his health was never the same, and he passed away some months later. After recuperating, Taylor made a comeback at the annual Chicago Blues Festival, and in 1990 she issued Jump for Joy, as well as making a cameo appearance in the typically bizarre David Lynch film Wild at Heart. Taylor followed it in 1993 with the aptly titled Force of Nature, after which she took a seven-year hiatus from recording; during that time, she remarried and continued to tour extensively, maintaining the stature she'd achieved with her '80s work as the living Queen of the Blues. In 2000, she finally returned with a new album, Royal Blue, which featured a plethora of guest stars: B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Johnnie Johnson, and Keb' Mo'. Health issues forced another seven-year hiatus before she returned with the album Old School in 2007. Koko Taylor died in Chicago in June 2009 after experiencing complications from surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding. She was 80 years old. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

I love this!!!!! My good wine , my blunt my feelings!! ( my oil' man)
lol haha rofl
Yeeeeah....I got what it takes to make a good man deny his name....;-). . . . l o l . . . . M e too Koko....the rocks on my finger is the proof in the puddin
Saw her and parties with her band at Oberlin 86 and changes my galactic view of music and true honest soul
Yeeeeeah I got what it takes to make a bull dog break his chains...... . n o w that's confidence.. . . . . . . . s i n g Koko.
ow!!!!!!!
Sing it sista.....i got the blues....
She s really great!
WANG DANG DOODLE ENUFF SAID
Awsome! And then some
Had the opportunity to sit back stage with her after she and her amazing band ripped it up all night at Lupo's in Providence, RI, back in the 90's!! She was soo sweet and funny, warm and comfortable sitting with us girl's...ama z i n g l y soft spoken lady. I am grateful for that moment.










royaldmd
Damn that woman could belt the blues! RIP KoKo you're still loved!
zeppelin57
she's great!
frannie1024
big-voiced, brassy female blues belter
lucky to have heard (seen) her
Heard her for the first time today and I thought I knew. The Blues, what a great voice.
First heard her name from a friend of mine last week, than one of her songs came up on one of my stations. Needless to say, now I'm a fan of hers!!! LONG LIVE KOKO!!
One of the best times I ever had in my life was seeing her live. Love, Love, Love, Koko !!!!!!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
one of the best live performers of all time
ebythebeach
I saw in Portland, OR at the river blues fest just before her passing...sh e is one of my favs!
I saw her at the U of C. I didn't know a thing about her, but her performance bowled me over. I was thinking aloud, Damn! she's good!
THE QUEEN OF COOL.....and the blues! Will always love you Koko, RIP!
I saw Koko at Kingston Mines in Chicago. She was wonderful!
tabeta1820
Koko is in deed the Queen of Chicago Blues, there will never be another Koko Taylor in this life time for me. God bless and Rest in Peace Koko
100 years from now, some young kid is going to hear a obsure sound track by someone once known as Koko. He's going to say, "Wow!"
natedog10
koko is my # 1 artists love her music.
cant believe in 1975 i bought queen of the blues on vinyl at tower records in nyc. penny will do.
RIP Koko, I've loved her music for years now...
Love KOko. A great loss. just discovered her lately.
jazzylady903
SULTRY & SMOOTH!!
She lived long, hard and full of blessing! I remember hearing my parent listening to her music when I was about five years old. After they come home from the juke joints, drunk, or just plain pissed off at each other. Some people you'll never forget or how they sound when they've sung great thinking music. Her voice remained the same even as she became older. Now that's an
Artist! She will be missed. God Bless
She left great classics for everyone, her legacy will live on.
Koko Taylor has died, aged 80.

The star, who was known as the Queen of Blues, passed away on Wednesday (03Jun09) at a Chicago, Illinois hospital.

Last month (May09), Taylor underwent surgery for a gastrointest i n a l bleed.

Taylor, born Cora Walton, enjoyed a 50 year career and was best known for her stellar live shows, performing around 100 gigs a year.

She won a Grammy Award in 1985 for her album Queen of the Blues and wa
anitablomber g 7
Heaven will be jumping and getting down with KOKO there, rest in peace KOKO.
Had the pleasure of meeting her, and what an honor! She was and still is #1, ALWAYS. Love ya KOKO. You're the best.
Had the pleasure of working in a club in traverse city michigan in the 80's koko and pops were there smoked a little illicit materials with pops they were great folks
REST IN PEACE
She will be missed. I saw her in a church in Oberlin OH 10 years ago and she could still belt it out. There is no other voice like hers.
debra_evans0 0
RIP Koko Taylor. She's one of the artists who got me into the blues when I was in college.

I feel lucky to have seen her live at the San Francisco Blues festival some years ago.
shipping034
get down big mama...
i luvs muh koko vocals
she rocks like no other she is real powerful with her words love it
koko taylor, me, and a bottle of jack daniels. Heaven!

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