Here is some very sad news from Alligator Records.
It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the passing of one of the truly legendary figures in music, the Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor. Koko had surgery May 19 for some ongoing gastro-intestinal issues and developed an infection that ultimately could not be contained. This morning we were told she'd taken a turn for the worse overnight. She passed away around 3:15pm today.
Born a sharecropper's daughter in Shelby County, Tennessee, Koko boarded a bus to Chicago in 1954 as part of the great migration of southern blacks to the urban centers of the north. For years she worked as a housecleaner until Willie Dixon discovered her in 1963 sitting in with a band at a South Side nightclub. She had an R&B hit with Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" in 1966 and was one of the first Chicago blues artists to work the white clubs on the city's North Side.
She signed with Alligator in 1975 and received Grammy nominations for eight of her nine Alligator albums (she won a Grammy in 1984 for the live multi-artist album, Blues Explosion, on Atlantic Records). She won a record 29 Blues Music Awards (the Grammy of the blues world) and in 1999 was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall Of Fame. “There are many kings of the blues,” said The Boston Globe, “but only one queen.”
Koko's last release, 2007's Old School, was a fiery return to the gritty blues she sang upon first arriving in the Windy City. She was the modern-day version of female blues trailblazers like Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie and as such influenced generations of artists from Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt to Susan Tedeschi and Shemekia Copeland. Our deepest sympathies go out to Koko's family and blues lovers everywhere.
Sales & Advertising Director
Breaking news in the online version of the Chicago Tribune within the past few minutes.
Koko Taylor, the Grammy Award-winning "Queen of the Blues," died Wednesday afternoon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital of complications from surgery, according to Marc Lipkin of Alligator Records. She was 80. Taylor, born Coral Walton on a sharecropper's farm outside Memphis, came to Chicago in 1952 and worked as a house cleaner. She began to sit in with blues bands and in the early 1960s signed a contract with Chess Records after being approached by Willie Dixon. In 1965 she recorded her signature song, "Wang Dang Doodle."
She sang that song at her final performance last month in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards after being honored as 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 great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are being made.
Taylor had been playing 200 shows a year for decades. But that ended in October 2003 when she was struck down by a heart attack and slipped into a 28-day coma. Friends feared for her life. When she emerged from the hospital after four months, she had to re-learn how to walk. She didn't perform again until the spring of 2004.
When Taylor came to Chicago, she was thrilled by the music she encountered in the South Side clubs, amplified and raucous, a harder incarnation of the back-porch brand of blues she had heard in the South. It was the heyday of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and "Pops" Taylor persuaded them to let Koko sing. "I closed my eyes and I got started," she said in a Tribune article published in March 2007. "There were no other women on the scene."
But her big voice won her a following, and she was instantly accepted. Dixon in particular became a mentor, and persuaded her to record "Wang Dang Doodle." Taylor was sheepish about the risqué subject matter because of her gospel background, but it soon came to define her feisty style.
-- Trevor Jensen and Greg Kot