She was born Cora Walton, but she loved chocolate so much she changed her name to Koko. Growing up outside of Memphis, she and her husband “Pops” Taylor set off for the North to look for a new life. And boy did Koko and Pops Taylor find it.
We got on that Greyhound bus headed north to Chicago and the only thing we had was 35 cents and a box of Ritz Crackers between us. When we got to Chicago, I still loved music, I still loved the blues and I didn’t realize for a while that all of the blues people that I had been listening to on the records and hearing about, most of them was right there in Chicago. First somebody I met was the Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, you know. They had their band playing, and every weekend my husband and I would go out to these little blues clubs, and all of the guys got to know me and I wanted to sing. So they started inviting me up on the bandstand. ”Hey, little Coke, you want to come up here and do a tune with us?” You know. That kept going on and on and on until finally, I met up with Willie Dixon. He came over to me and he says, he say, “I never heard a woman sing the blues like you.” He says, “and that’s what the world needs today.” He said, ”We got a lot of men who sing the blues but no women.” – Koko Taylor
(September 28, 1928 – June 3, 2009)
Queen of the Blues Koko Taylor was born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee on September 28, 1928.
She grew up playing makeshift instruments, singing gospel in church, listening to the recordings of Memphis Minnie. But she didn’t consider a career in music until much later in life. In 1953, she married Robert “Pops” Taylor, and the two of them moved to Chicago. Koko found work as housemaid by day, and spent her nights in South Side blues clubs. Her husband “Pops” convinced her to sit in with the performers, and soon enough she was a regular guest on the scene. It took a little while, but in 1962 she met Chess Records songwriter, producer and bassist Willie Dixon, who was so impressed by her performance he offered her a recording contract.
Under Willie’s wing, Koko recorded number of pieces written expressly for her big brassy voice. She struck gold in 1965 with “Wang Dang Doodle.” Though initially wary of the song’s raunchy lyrics, Koko took her mentor’s advice—it became her signature song, and made her a star.
Koko Taylor was nominated for 9 Grammy awards, taking one home in 1984. In addition to numerous honors, she won the Blues Music (W.C. Handy Award) 29 times, more than any other performer. Ms. Taylor passed away in 2009.