Legendary blues singer Koko Taylor died June 3 in Chicago, Illinois of complications from intestinal surgery. She was 80 years old. Taylor was not only a magnetic performer but an important influence on entire generation of female blues artists.
It was Koko Taylor's earthy growl and heartfelt delivery of blues classics like "Wang Dang Doodle" that earned her the title, "Queen Of The Blues." The song was a million-selling hit on the R&B charts in the 1960s, and over the years, it became Taylor's most-requested show tune.
Koko Taylor was born Cory Walton near Memphis, Tennessee. She earned the nickname "Koko" because of her love for chocolate. Her passion for the blues began at home, where she listened to records by Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie on the radio. Although her father encouraged Koko to pursue gospel music, she would sneak out of the house, and sing the blues with her brothers accompanying her on homemade instruments.
Determined to leave the cotton fields of rural Tennessee for the bright lights of Chicago, Koko packed her bags and moved there with her future husband Robert Taylor. Her big break came in 1962, when famed blues producer and arranger Willie Dixon spotted her in a nightclub and signed her to Chess Records.
Koko achieved international success on the Chess label, turning out a string of best-selling blues hits like "I Got What It Takes." When Chess folded in 1975, Koko went on to record nine albums with Alligator Records, eight of them nominated for Grammy Awards.
Koko's 40-plus-year career includes an impressive list of honors and awards. Among them, a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album, 29 Blues Music Awards, the Blues Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award, induction into the Blues Hall of Fame, and a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award.
Koko Taylor gave her last performance on May 7 at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis. She died on June 3 at her home in Chicago.