Career stretched over five decades

Koko Taylor, a sharecropper’s daughter whose regal bearing and powerful voice earned her the sobriquet “Queen of the Blues,” died June 3 in Chicago after complications from surgery. She was 80.

Taylor’s career stretched more than five decades. While she did not have widespread mainstream success, she was revered and beloved by blues aficionados and earned worldwide acclaim for her work, which including the bestselling song “Wang Dang Doodle” and tunes such as “What Kind of Man Is This” and “I Got What It Takes.”

Taylor appeared on national television numerous times, was the subject of a PBS documentary and had a small part in director David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart.”

Taylor was nominated seven times for Grammy Awards and won in 1984. Taylor last performed on May 7 in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards.

Born Cora Walton just outside Memphis, Taylor said her dream to become a blues singer was nurtured in the cotton fields outside her family’s sharecropper shack.

Orphaned at 11, Koko — a nickname she earned because of an early love of chocolate — moved to Chicago at age 18 with her soon-to-be-husband, the late Robert “Pops” Taylor, in search of work.

The break for Taylor came in 1962, when arranger-composer Willie Dixon, impressed by her voice, got her a Chess recording contract and produced several singles (and two albums) for her, including the million-selling 1965 hit, “Wang Dang Doodle,” which she called silly but which launched her recording career.

From Chicago blues clubs, Taylor took her raucous, gritty, good-time blues on the road to blues and jazz festivals around the nation, and into Europe. After the Chess label folded, she signed with Alligator Records.

In most years, she performed at least 100 concerts a year.

In addition to performing, she operated a Chicago nightclub, which closed in November 2001 because her daughter, club manager Joyce Threatt, developed severe asthma and could no longer manage a smoky nightclub.

Survivors include her daughter, husband Hays Harris, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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