Koko Taylor, Grammy-Winning "Queen of the Blues," Dead at 80

June 4, 2009 10:10 AM ET

Grammy Award winner Koko Taylor, dubbed the "Queen of the Blues," died yesterday in her native Chicago following complications from her May 19th surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding, the singer's official Website posted yesterday. Taylor was 80. Born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee, Taylor and her powerful, gritty voice began performing at blues club in the late 1950s. Taylor was most well-known for her 1965 hit "Wang Dang Doodle," a song penned by legendary bluesman Willie Dixon, who helped her secure a contract with Chess Records.

In 1975, Taylor signed with Alligator Records, and released nine albums during her tenure there. Nominated for eight Grammys over her career, Taylor won the award for her guest appearance on the Blues Explosion compilation in 1985. Taylor was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1997 and was awarded the Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Ward in 1999. Earlier this year, Taylor performed at the Kennedy Center Honors to honor Morgan Freeman.

"She was very shy, and so was I, so we hit it off," blues legend Buddy Guy, who played guitar on "Wang Dang Doodle," tells the Chicago Sun Times. "Willie Dixon and I had to get her out of her shell for 'Wang Dang Doodle.' She was one of the last of the greats of Chicago and did what she could to keep the blues alive here, like I'm trying to do now."

Taylor's last performance was a May 7th appearance at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis. In all, Taylor won 29 Blues Music Awards, more than any other artist. According to the singer's Website, over the course of her storied career Taylor had shared the stage with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. In addition to her achievements in music, Taylor also had roles in films like David Lynch's Wild At Heart and Blues Brothers 2000.

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon, the singer's Website reports.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories


Lou Reed | 1972

Opening Lou Reed's 1972 solo album, the hard-riffing "Vicious" actually traces its origin back to Reed's days with the Velvet Underground. Picking up bits and pieces of songs from the people and places around him, and filing his notes for later use, Reed said it was Andy Warhol who provided fuel for the song. "He said, 'Why don't you write a song called 'Vicious,'" Reed told Rolling Stone in 1989. "And I said, 'What kind of vicious?' 'Oh, you know, vicious like I hit you with a flower.' And I wrote it down literally."

More Song Stories entries »