Taylor, born Coral Walton on a sharecropper's farm outside Memphis, was orphaned by the time she was 11, and had to work the cotton fields to support herself. She came to Chicago in 1952 with her future husband, Robert "Pops" Taylor, to escape the plantation life and "look for work, start a new life, get married and have a family."
In Chicago 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 May in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards after being honored as Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year.
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 she 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. "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 what would become her signature song, "Wang Dang Doodle," in the mid-'60s for Chess Records. Taylor was sheepish about the risqué subject matter because of her gospel background, but it soon came to define her feisty style.
(The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story)
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