It is not easy being a woman succeeding in the male- dominated blues world, but Koko Taylor has done just that. She’s taken her music from the tiny clubs on the South Side of Chicago to giant festivals, and continues to perform all over the world. She’s appeared on national television numerous times and has even been the subject of a PBS documentary. Through good times and personal hardships, Koko Taylor has remained a major force in the blues. “It’s a challenge,” she says. “It’s tough being out here doing what I’m doing in what they call a man’s world. It’s not every woman that can hang in there and do what I am doing.” Without a doubt, Koko Taylor is the preeminent blues woman in the world today. She is, and will remain, the undisputed Queen of the Blues.
"I come from a poor family,” recalls Koko. “A very poor family, I was raised up on what they call a sharecropper’s farm.” Born Cora Walton (an early love of chocolate earned her the lifelong nickname Koko) in 1928 just outside of Memphis in Bartlett, Tennessee, Koko was an orphan by age 11. Along with her five brothers and sisters, Koko developed a love for music from a mixture of gospel she heard in church and blues she heard on radio stations beaming in from Memphis. Even though her father encouraged her to sing only gospel music, Koko and her siblings would sneak out back with their homemade instruments and play the blues. With one brother accompanying on a guitar strung with baling wire and another brother on a fife made out of a corncob, Koko began her career as a blues woman. As a youngster, Koko listened to as many blues artists as she could. Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie were particular influences, as were Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. She would listen to their songs over and over again. Although she loved to sing, she never dreamed of joining their ranks.
When she was in her early 20s, Koko and her soon-to-be husband, the late Robert “Pops” Taylor, moved to Chicago looking for work. With nothing but, in Koko’s words, “35 cents and a box of Ritz crackers,” the couple settled on the city’s South Side, the cradle of the rough-edged sound of Chicago blues. Taylor found work cleaning houses for wealthy families in the ritzy northern suburbs. At night and on weekends, Koko and Pops would visit the South and West Side blues clubs, where they would hear singers like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam, Little Walter, and Junior Wells. And thanks to prodding from Pops, it wasn’t long before Taylor was sitting in with many of the legendary blues artists on a regular basis.