Koko Taylor, one of the giants of Chicago blues, died on Wednesday at her Chicago home at the age of 80 of complications from a May 19 surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding, according to her official Web site.
"Koko Taylor was one of very few women who found success in the male-dominated blues world. She took her music from the tiny clubs of Chicago's South Side to concert halls and major festivals all over the world," read a tribute on her Web site. "She shared stages with every major blues star, including Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy as well as rock icons Robert Plant and Jimmy Page."
The singer, whose signature songs included "Wang Dang Doodle" and "I'm a Woman," was known as the "Queen of the Blues." The daughter of a West Tennessee sharecropper, she famously boasted that she came north to Chicago in 1952 with "35 cents and a box of Ritz Crackers."
According to the Chicago Tribune, Taylor had frequently said she wanted to die onstage while singing the blues. She almost got her wish, dying less than four weeks after her final performance at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tennessee, where she won her 29th award.
Taylor's growly vocals and sassy onstage demeanor were an inspiration to the generations of blues singers that came in her wake. The Grammy winner (and nine-time nominee) received the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award in 2004, the highest honor given to an American artist.
Born Cora Walton on September 28, 1928, on a sharecropper's farm just outside Memphis, she was nicknamed Koko due to her love of chocolate. Like many blues originators, Taylor was inspired by gospel music and at an early age she began singing the blues with her five brothers and sister while playing on homemade instruments.
She and late husband Robert "Pops" Taylor moved to Chicago in 1952, when Taylor was 24 years old, and after a hard day of working as a domestic scrubbing floors for rich families, she often visited the city's South Side blues clubs, where she became an in-demand guest vocalist. Well-known arranger/composer Willie Dixon approached her one night in 1962 and helped her get a contract with Chess Records, where he produced and wrote her million-selling 1965 smash, "Wang Dang Doodle."
Once Chess folded, she was signed to another iconic blues label, Chicago's Alligator Records, where between 1975 and 2007 she recorded nine albums for the label, eight of which scored Grammy nominations.
"With the passing of Koko Taylor the music world has lost a true icon," Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement. "The 'Queen of Chicago Blues' not only performed with many blues icons during her legendary career, but her regal bearing and powerful voice also influenced artists across multiple genres. ... Her extraordinary spirit and talent will remain with us forever through her recordings."