Koko Taylor (September 28, 1928 – June 3, 2009) was an American blues musician, popularly known as the "Queen of the Blues." She was known primarily for her rough, powerful vocals and traditional blues stylings.
Born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee, Taylor was the daughter of a sharecropper. Taylor often worked in the fields with her father and five brothers and sisters, and received her nickname "Koko" because of her love of chocolate.
Like many modern era blues singers, Taylor began by singing gospel music in the church, but picked up her love of the blues after hearing artists like Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith on the radio.
She left Memphis for Chicago, Illinois in 1952 with her husband, truck driver Robert "Pops" Taylor. In the late 1950s she began singing in Chicago blues clubs. She was spotted by Willie Dixon in 1962, and this led to wider performances and her first recording contract.
In 1965, Taylor was signed by Chess Records where she recorded "Wang Dang Doodle," a song written by Dixon and recorded by Howlin' Wolf five years earlier. The song became a hit, reaching number four on the R&B charts in 1966, and selling a million copies. Taylor recorded several versions of "Wang Dang Doodle" over the years, including a live version at the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival with harmonica player Little Walter and guitarist Hound Dog Taylor. Taylor subsequently recorded more material, both original and covers, but never repeated that initial chart success.
National touring in the late 1960s and early 1970s improved her fan base, and she became accessible to a wider record-buying public when she signed with Alligator Records in 1975. Taylor became one of the first Chicago blues performer to cross over to a white audience, and as she moved further outside of the Chicago area to perform, her popularity grew even larger.
An appearance at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival was captured by a live compilation album released by Atlantic Records, introducing a national audience to Taylor's talents.
She recorded nine albums for Alligator, 8 of which were Grammy-nominated, and came to dominate the female blues singer ranks, winning twenty five W. C. Handy Awards (more than any other artist). After her recovery from a near-fatal car crash in 1989, the 1990s found Taylor in films such as Blues Brothers 2000 and Wild at Heart, and she opened a blues club on Division Street in Chicago in 1994, but it closed in 1999.
Taylor overcame poverty, tragedy, and physical infirmity to become one of the most popular blues singers in the world, male or female. Her dynamic live performances and recordings have influenced countless young musicians, including artists like Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, and Susan Tedeschi.In the years prior to her death; she performed over 70 concerts a year and resided just south of Chicago in Country Club Hills, Illinois.
In 2008, the Internal Revenue Service said that Taylor owed $400,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. Her tax problems concerned 1998, 2000 and 2001; for those years combined, her adjusted gross income was $949,000.
Taylor died on June 3, 2009, after complications from surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding on May 19, 2009. Her final performance was at the Blues Music Awards, on May 7, 2009. (Info edited from About.com & Wikipedia)
Koko Taylor and her band in Montreal, 1980.