Sunday, June 14, 2009

Koko Taylor, Chicago Royalty

Koko Taylor, Queen of the Blues, has died at age 80. It is a strange but beautiful and fitting coincidence that Koko's funeral was held the day the Chicago Blues Festival opened. She is certainly on the minds of everyone at the fest this year. Chicago Blues will never be the same without it's Queen.

The daughter of poor Tennessee sharecroppers, Cora Walton whose love for chocolate got her the nickname of Koko, came to Chicago in 1952 with "35 cents and a box of Ritz Crackers". She was one of the few female blues singers in the male dominated genre and it had to be tough to get stage time. But, Koko Taylor with her raw intense vocal firepower and good-time, foot stomping styling, became the female name associated with Chicago's blues legacy. This woman sang the blues nearly fifty years for the world but especially for Chicago. There were several kings of the blues but only one Queen.

Bruce Iglauer, a friend and founder of Alligator Records, which showcased Taylor, told the crowd that he was determined not to be despondent by his friends death..

"Koko Taylor's life was a triumph," he said, "a triumph over poverty, over lack of education, over racism. A triumph over all the odds."

Grammy Award winner Koko Taylor received every award the Blues world has to offer.

Blues artist Willie Dixon wrote Koko's huge 1965 hit "Wang Dang Doodle" which became her signature song. There are versions of Koko's performance of this song on YouTube that span the decades. This one is from a 2008 festival. I love the crowd's response. It reminds me so much of going to the festival and seeing Koko with Monica and my mom.

Over 1000 mourners paid tribute at her funeral. Koko's star power reached across all lines. The crowd was multi-cultural and multi everything else. Some came in jeans on the bus and some came in limos in designer suits. Tributes ranged from a proclamation from the governor to rock stars to the deli guy who sold her favorite corned beef sandwich.

Chicago will miss having the Queen of the Blues to promote our city. She was always up front and vocal about anything good for Chitown including the recent quest to bring the 2016 Olympic games here. It is hard to think of Chicago being without Koko Taylor.
Your Royal Highness Koko Taylor, R.I.P.

Koko in the 1960's




Koko at her Chicago blues club on Wabash Ave.

Koko with her daughter Cookie.

We will miss you.


jjbrock said...

Jackie great job and post...I remember see Ms.Taylor in concert in the early 90's...She and Johnny Taylor(no relationship)KoKo brought the house down...I don't think she got her big break like her male counterparts did but she did hold her own on stage.

Chris said...

Sorry I missed out on her........

Jackie said...

Ann, you saw Koko and Johnny Taylor at the same time? WOW!!! Now that was a show!
Yes, she held her own in a world of bluesmen. She got her props from the music biz and seemed very happy. Of course she was nothing less than real royalty here in Chicago.

Chris, she was not only a dynamic singer but a dynamic, giving, funny, person. She had her own charitable organization here and was always out front with a helping hand. She enriched Chicago and we really miss her.