Wednesday, October 01, 2014 - 61°F
lights, big city. For thousands of rural Southern blacks, post-WWII-era
Chicago represented exactly that—a metropolis whose bright lights
signaled an opportunity for a better life. Koko Taylor, a sharecropper's
daughter from Memphis, and her husband, Pops Taylor, came to Chicago on
a Greyhound bus, with a box of crackers and a couple of dollars to their
name. And so began the story of the world-acclaimed Queen of the Blues,
an artist whose career has spanned over four decades.
Koko's career as a recording artist began at Chess Records, a label that produced such stars as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf. Her deep, raspy, unusual voice caught the attention of Willie Dixon, giving birth to both a lasting business partnership and an enduring friendship. In an age when men dominated the blues, Koko impressed the blues community with her first single "I Got What It Takes," a title that appropriately summed up her determination and her ability as a musician. Three years later, "Wang Dang Doodle" firmly established Koko's influence on the blues, but it would be Chess Records' last big hit.
Despite her success, Koko's fame came as the popularity of the blues dwindled with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. Seen as the expression of the downtrodden sharecropper, the blues fell into disfavor with many young blacks. They instead turned to the more radical sounds R&B and soul. In 1972, having weathered the demise of Chess Records and searching to find a new outlet for her music, Koko Taylor turned to Bruce Iglauer and Alligator Records, a company that was rejuvenating blues recording in Chicago. After much convincing Iglauer decided to sign her, launching Koko on her continued path of success.
But Koko Taylor has never had the red carpet rolled out for her. One of six children, Koko learned the value of hard work at an early age. Whether picking cotton to help the family survive, mopping floors as a maid on the North Shore, or singing her heart out on stage, Koko Taylor's work ethic has always driven her. She has been a businesswoman and a persistent fighter for the equality of women in an arena often dominated by men. But to her fans she is the honest, down-to-earth, genuine expression of the blues.
Over the course of her career, she has received a Grammy, 20 W.C. Handy awards (the most ever for a female singer), and was the first woman in the Blues Hall of Fame. As she nears the end of her 7th decade, the indefatigable Koko Taylor still performs 150 nights a year with the same gusto and low-down growl that has made her the "Queen of the Blues." This is her story.
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