Koko Taylor (Cora Walton)
Born: September 28, 1935, Memphis, Tennessee
Died: June 3, 2009
Photo credit: Bill Steber – www.steberphoto.com
Vocalist Koko Taylor established her career in Chicago, Illinois, at a time when men dominated the local blues scene. A spunky, independent woman with a powerful voice, she was known as the “Queen of the Blues.” I’m a Woman, and other songs she recorded championing women’s issues, inspired the next generation of blues women. Like most Chicago blues greats, Taylor migrated from the South. She became known as Koko for her love of chocolate. As a child, she worked in the fields alongside her five brothers and sisters. The siblings formed a musical group that sang and played homemade instruments. In 1952, she moved to Chicago with Robert “Pops” Taylor, her soon to be husband. According to Taylor, they arrived in Chicago with “thirty-five cents and a box of Ritz crackers.” Taylor worked as a cleaning lady during the day and hung out in the blues clubs on the South Side at night. There, she listened to Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and other blues greats who were creating a new electric style of Chicago Blues. In 1962, Willie Dixon heard Koko and signed her to Checker Records. Recorded in 1965, her version of Wang Dang Doodle became a national hit that rose to number four on the R&B Charts. A 1972 guest appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival and albums of the concert issued by Atlantic Records helped establish her career nationally. She signed with Alligator Records in 1975 and went on to record nine critically- acclaimed albums for the label. During her long career, she won twenty-five W.C. Handy Awards.