Sad to see this one:
She had one heck of a voice.
Sad to see this one:
She had one heck of a voice.
Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor dies at 80
Koko Taylor more than once said she hoped that when she died, it would be on stage, doing the thing she loved most: Singing the blues.
She nearly got her wish. The Chicago musical icon died Wednesday at age 80 of complications from gastrointestinal surgery less than four weeks after her last performance, at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tenn. There she collected her record 29th Blues Music Award, capping an era in which she became the most revered female blues vocalist of her time.
Taylor died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital 15 days after her May 19 surgery. She appeared to be recovering until taking a turn for the worst Wednesday morning, and was with friends and family when she died.
“Koko Taylor’s life and music brought joy to millions of people all around the world and Chicago is especially honored that she called our city her home for more than 50 years,” Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley said. “The strength of her style was formed in the night clubs of Chicago’s South Side and she carried that spirit with her wherever she went. She was an ambassador for our city and truly was the queen of a kind of music that makes people think of Chicago whenever they hear it.”
Among those with her Wednesday was Bruce Iglauer, owner of Chicago-based Alligator Records, who was her producer, manager and friend since 1974.
He recalled that Taylor had a similar surgery in 2004 and was on a ventilator for nearly a month. “The doctors were very discouraged then about her coming back, and she willed herself back to life,” Iglauer said. “We were hoping she would do the same this time.”
Born Cora Walton in 1928 in Memphis, Tenn., Taylor literally got up off her knees to become a blues icon.
Growing up on a sharecropper's farm outside Memphis, young Cora and her three brothers and two sisters slept on pallets in a shotgun shack with no running water or electricity. By the time she was 11, both her parents had died. She picked cotton to survive, and moved to Chicago in the early '50s to be with her future husband, Robert "Pop" Taylor. She found a job working as a domestic, scrubbing floors for rich families.
She had sung gospel music in church while living in the South, and on weekends would attend the blues clubs on Chicago’s burgeoning South Side scene, the heyday of Chess Records and such stalwarts as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon. She would occasionally sit in and caught the ear of Dixon, who approached her in the early ‘60s about recording one of his songs, “Wang Dang Doodle.”
"I didn't know Willie Dixon from Adam's house cat," Taylor recalled in an interview with the Tribune. "But he says to me, 'I love the way you sound' and, 'We got plenty of men out here singing the blues, but the world needs a woman like you with your voice to sing the blues.' ”
Taylor’s 1965 hit recording of “Wang Dang Doodle” launched her career, and established her sound: a gruff, no-nonsense roar that was the female equivalent of Howlin' Wolf's baritone growl. By becoming a band leader and a powerful voice in a male-dominated scene, she broke down barriers for many female entertainers who followed.
“Some of the lady singers who were working little local clubs, or maybe just attempting to sing in choirs and churches, they got into the blues scene because of Koko,” said Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records. “Zora Young, Big Time Sarah, Shirley Johnson - they were inspired to try to come out and sing blues because of Koko's success. Without Koko, that might not have happened."
But when Chess folded in the early ‘70s, Taylor was back where she started, scrapping for a living.
"It was a devastating time for my mom," Taylor's daughter, Joyce "Cookie" Threatt, once told the Tribune. "Then she met Bruce [Iglauer]. It was like God put him there."
Iglauer had never worked with a female vocalist before on his fledgling label, which was dominated by guitar-playing men. But he was impressed by Taylor’s moxie and her sound.
“She was of the same generation as Muddy and Wolf, she had those [Mississippi] Delta roots,” he said Wednesday. “Even though she had been living in Chicago since the ‘50s, her music was still deeply rooted in the South. She had that rhythmic sense, that sense of where you lay the words and how the band locks in around the singer, that intensity of people who have lived that life.”
Taylor was already a distinctive artist when she came to Alligator, and with Iglauer's help began exploring a more vulnerable side to her persona on select ballads such as her epochal version of the Etta James hit "I'd Rather Go Blind." Even when recording other people's material, the singer put her idiosyncratic touch on it, usually singing it a cappella in the studio, with the musicians following her.
Taylor never adopted the blues lifestyle of hard drinking and philandering that consumed some of her peers. She was a devout woman, but at the same deeply appreciative of how the blues communicated honestly and directly about everyday life.
As her daughter once told the Tribune: “She grew up singing in [the Baptist] church in Memphis, and people come into church to get washed. They don't come in there already clean."
At the same time, she was not one to mince words. She could be devastatingly direct with anyone who crossed her.
“She was meticulous about her music, so if her band screwed up, they would hear about it,” Iglauer said. “She would not bite her tongue.”
For her, the blues was life. She bounced off her death bed in 2004 to write and record another album, the aptly titled “Old School,” released in 2007 on Alligator. It would prove to be her final recording, though Iglauer said that in recent months Taylor was calling him and singing new songs over the phone.
“She was scheduled to go to Spain next week,” he said. “She was still performing. At the Blues Awards in Memphis a few weeks ago, she was absolutely glowing. She would be exhausted standing by the stand of the stage, but when the lights went up, she would hop up and dance as soon as the music started. She would always say, ‘If I can brighten one person’s day with my music, that’s what I live for.’ ”
Survivors include her husband, Hays Harris; daughter Joyce Threatt; son-in-law Lee Threatt; grandchildren Lee Jr. and Wendy; and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
The Tribune’s Howard Reich contributed to this report.
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.
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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
"Bad Case of Loving You"