Breaking news in the online version of the Chicago Tribune within the past few minutes.
Koko Taylor, the Grammy Award-winning "Queen of the Blues," died Wednesday afternoon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital of complications from surgery, according to Marc Lipkin of Alligator Records. She was 80.
Taylor, born Coral Walton on a sharecropper's farm outside Memphis, came to Chicago in 1952 and worked as a house cleaner. She began to sit in with blues bands and in the early 1960s signed a contract with Chess Records after being approached by Willie Dixon. In 1965 she recorded her signature song, "Wang Dang Doodle."
She sang that song at her final performance last month in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards after being honored as Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year.
Survivors include Taylor's husband, Hays Harris; daughter Joyce Threatt; son-in-law Lee Threatt, grandchildren Lee, Jr. and Wendy, and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are being made.
Taylor had been playing 200 shows a year for decades. But that ended in October 2003 when she was struck down by a heart attack and slipped into a 28-day coma. Friends feared for her life. When she emerged from the hospital after four months, she had to re-learn how to walk. She didn't perform again until the spring of 2004.
When Taylor came to Chicago, she was thrilled by the music she encountered in the South Side clubs, amplified and raucous, a harder incarnation of the back-porch brand of blues she had heard in the South. It was the heyday of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and "Pops" Taylor persuaded them to let Koko sing. "I closed my eyes and I got started," she said in a Tribune article published in March 2007. "There were no other women on the scene."
But her big voice won her a following, and she was instantly accepted. Dixon in particular became a mentor, and persuaded her to record "Wang Dang Doodle." Taylor was sheepish about the risqué subject matter because of her gospel background, but it soon came to define her feisty style.
-- Trevor Jensen and Greg Kot
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