RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Her name: synonymous with Chicago blues. Her voice: growling, thunderous and full of soul.
(Soundbite of song, "I Got What It Takes")
Ms. KOKO TAYLOR (Singer): (Singing) Yeah, I got what it takes to make a good man, a good man deny his name.
MONTAGNE: Koko Taylor died yesterday at the age of 80. NPR's Cheryl Corley has this remembrance.
CHERYL CORLEY: Koko Taylor was called the queen of the blues. She was born in 1928 on a sharecropper's farm near Memphis. Her given name was Cora Walton, but she was called Koko because she loved chocolate. During an interview with NPR in 2000, Taylor said she and her five siblings would sing gospel music on Sundays, but on Mondays it was the blues.
Ms. TAYLOR: My younger brother made himself a harmonica out of corn cob. And I didn't need no microphone. And we'd be back there singing and playing.
CORLEY: Later, Taylor would move to Chicago with her soon-to-be husband. She worked as a cleaning woman, but she and her husband would often frequent nightclubs on nights and weekends. She told NPR in 1991 that musicians would invite her to join them on the bandstand.
Ms. TAYLOR: One Sunday, I was sitting there and, you know, and Willy Dixon happened to be in the audience. And when I finished, he says to me, he said, my God, I ain't never heard a woman sing the blues like you sing the blues before in my life. Where did you come from? I said, Memphis.
CORLEY: Dixon, already a celebrate bluesman, helped Taylor sign with Chicago's Chess Records and wrote a song for her that became her signature.
(Soundbite of song, "Wang Dang Doodle")
Ms. TAYLOR: (Singing) Tell automatic slim, tell razor totin' Jim.
CORLEY: Sales of "Wang Dang Doodle" would reach a million, and Taylor hit the road to blues and jazz festivals around the country and abroad. When Chess Records went out of business, Taylor signed with Alligator Records. The company's president, Bruce Iglauer, was Taylor's manager for more than 30 years. He says the queen of the blues didn't fit the traditional image of a blues singer.
Mr. BRUCE IGLAUER (Alligator Records; Koko Taylor's Former Manager): She didn't party. She didn't live a wild life at all. But what she did do that was so much of the essence of the blues is she sang directly from the soul.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. TAYLOR: (Singing) Hey, y'all, listen to the (unintelligible).
CORLEY: Taylor also appeared in film and on television, and she held more than her own in the male-dominated blues industry, sharing the stage with other major blues stars, including Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howling Wolf and Buddy Guy. Iglauer says Koko Taylor knew she had to be tough, and she absolutely ruled her band.
Mr. IGLAUER: She would stomp out the beat with her right foot and, boy, the drummer better play Koko's beat. When they - when she told them to bring it down, they better bring it down to a whisper, because she was determined that she was going to make it and that nobody was going to say, well, she's good for a woman.
CORLEY: During her 40-plus year career, the woman who could blast songs like a hurricane from her lungs won a plethora of awards, including a Grammy in 1984. She was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1997. And last month, Koko Taylor was named the Traditional Blues Artist of the Year at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
(Soundbite of song, "Wang, Dang, Doodle")
Ms. TAYLOR: (Singing) We're going to get your wang, dang doodle all night long. All night long. All night long. All night long. All night long. We're going to get your wang dang doodle all night long.
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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