Thursday, June 4, 2009



Grammy Award-winning blues legend Koko Taylor, 80, died on June 3, 2009 in her
hometown of Chicago, IL, as a result of complications following her May 19
surgery to correct a gastrointestinal bleed. On May 7, 2009, the critically
acclaimed Taylor, known worldwide as the “Queen of the Blues,” won her 29th
Blues Music Award (for Traditional Female Blues Artist Of The Year), making her
the recipient of more Blues Music Awards than any other artist. In 2004 she
received the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award, which is among the highest
honors given to an American artist. Her most recent CD, 2007’s Old School, was
nominated for a Grammy (eight of her nine Alligator albums were
Grammy-nominated). She won a Grammy in 1984 for her guest appearance on the
compilation album Blues Explosion on Atlantic.

Born Cora Walton on a sharecropper’s farm just outside Memphis, TN, on September
28, 1928, Koko, nicknamed for her love of chocolate, fell in love with music at
an early age. Inspired by gospel music and WDIA blues disc jockeys B.B. King and
Rufus Thomas, Taylor began belting the blues with her five brothers and sisters,
accompanying themselves on their homemade instruments. In 1952, Taylor and her
soon-to-be-husband, the late Robert “Pops” Taylor, traveled to Chicago with
nothing but, in Koko’s words, “thirty-five cents and a box of Ritz Crackers.”

In Chicago, “Pops” worked for a packing company, and Koko cleaned houses.
Together they frequented the city’s blues clubs nightly. Encouraged by her
husband, Koko began to sit in with the city’s top blues bands, and soon she was
in demand as a guest artist. One evening in 1962 Koko was approached by
arranger/composer Willie Dixon. Overwhelmed by Koko’s performance, Dixon landed
Koko a Chess Records recording contract, where he produced her several singles,
two albums and penned her million-selling 1965 hit “Wang Dang Doodle,” which
would become Taylor’s signature song.

After Chess Records was sold, Taylor found a home with the Chicago’s Alligator
Records in 1975 and released the Grammy-nominated I Got What It Takes. She
recorded eight more albums for Alligator between 1978 and 2007, received seven
more Grammy nominations and made numerous guest appearances on various albums
and tribute recordings. Koko appeared in the films Wild At Heart, Mercury Rising
and Blues Brothers 2000. She performed on Late Night With David Letterman, Late
Night With Conan O’Brien, CBS-TV’s This Morning, National Public Radio’s All
Things Considered, CBS-TV’s Early Edition, and numerous regional television

Over the course of her 40-plus-year career, Taylor received every award the
blues world has to offer. On March 3, 1993, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley
honored Taylor with a “Legend Of The Year” Award and declared “Koko Taylor Day”
throughout Chicago. In 1997, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall
of Fame. A year later, Chicago Magazine named her “Chicagoan Of The Year” and,
in 1999, Taylor received the Blues Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In
2009 Taylor performed in Washington, D.C. at The Kennedy Center Honors honoring
Morgan Freeman.

Koko Taylor was one of very few women who found success in the male-dominated
blues world. She took her music from the tiny clubs of Chicago’s South Side to
concert halls and major festivals all over the world. She shared stages with
every major blues star, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Junior
Wells and Buddy Guy as well as rock icons Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Taylor’s final performance was on May 7, 2009 in Memphis at the Blues Music
Awards, where she sang “Wang Dang Doodle” after receiving her award for
Traditional Blues Female Artist Of The Year.

Survivors include Taylor’s husband Hays Harris, daughter Joyce Threatt,
son-in-law Lee Threatt, grandchildren Lee, Jr. and Wendy, and three

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