Have the selections for the Winter Holiday Music Festival so far been a bit too white bread for your taste? We have just the solution thanks to the late Queen of the Blues, Chicago’s own Koko Taylor.
She was born on a farm near Memphis, Tennessee, the cradle of the Delta Blues on September 28, 1928. Cora Anna Walton was the daughter of share croppers. By her teens she was singing shouting gospel in church and absorbing the raw blues played on front porches and in juke joints.
In 1952 with her truck driver husband she joined the post-World War II migration to Chicago’s South Side where she encountered the throbbing energy of the city’s new electric blues scene. By the late 50’s she was singing in small clubs and house parties slowly building a local reputation in a very male dominated scene. She picked up the nick name Koko from her love of chocolate and dark complexion.
Taylor’s big break came in 1962 when she was “discovered” by Willie Dixon which led to bookings in the city’s major blues clubs. In 1964 she signed with Checker Records, a label owned by Chess Records and released Dixon’s Wang Dang Doodle and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf five years earlier. The record became a hit, reaching number four on the R&B chart and number 58 on the pop chart in 1966 and selling a million copies. It became her signature song.
The record came at the perfect time, just as interest in the authentic Chicago blues was exploding and opening up a whole new audience among young whites and rock and rollers. By the late 60’s Taylor was touring extensively and often on the bill with Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, and Muddy Waters at blues festivals in the United States, Britain, and Europe.
In 1975 Taylor signed with Alligator Records where he LPs found wider audiences. In the ‘80’s and ‘90’s she was indisputably the dominant female blues artist and picked up the title Queen of the Blues, a crown previously worn by one of here early influences, Bessie Smith.
She began to rack up piles of honors—eight Grammy nominations one win, 29 W. C. Handy/Blues Music Awards, the Howlin’ Wolf Award, and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame. She was also frequently featured at the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park. Yet when she was not touring, she still showed up at Chicago Clubs and had her own place on Division Street in 1994, which relocated to Wabash Avenue, in South Loop, in 2000.
Taylor influenced Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt but never made near the money as the white artists. But she did well enough to buy a comfortable home for herself and her husband in south suburban Country Club Hills. Like many other musicians without sophisticated money management she ran afoul of the IRS in 2008 which charged that she owed $400,000 in unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest, for the years 1998, 2000 and 2001. In those years combined, her adjusted gross income was reported to be $949,000.
That trouble was still hanging over her head when Taylor made her last public performance at the Blues Music Awards on May 7, 2009. She died in Chicago of complications after surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding less than a month later on June 3 at the age of 80.
|Koko Taylor Merry Merry Christmas were featured in Aligator Records compilation album.|
Taylor was at the height of her power when she recorded her own original song Merry Merry Christmas in 1975. It was part of the soundtrack to the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping in 1995.