American blueswoman (1928-2009). Real name: Cora Walton. Her mother died in 1939, and she helped out on her father's farm, along with her other siblings. Soon afterward, she got her nickname due to the fact that she loved chocolate so much.

Koko got her musical start singing gospel music in the local Baptist church, but she and her siblings enjoyed playing blues together on homemade instruments. She married Robert "Pops" Taylor, a truck driver, in 1953; they moved to Chicago to look for work. Pops ended up working in a slaughterhouse, while Koko worked as a housemaid. Pops and Koko both enjoyed Chicago's blues scene -- both were musicians, and Pops encouraged Koko to sit in with some of the bands. She was a popular singer in Chicago and met songwriter Willie Dixon in 1962. He produced her first single, "Honky Tonky", in 1963, then helped her get a record contract with Chess Records. In 1964, her first single for Chess, "Wang Dang Doodle", sold over a million copies and established her as a major force in the blues world.

As Koko's popularity grew, she and Pops were able to quit their day jobs. They put together a backup band called the Blues Machine, and Pops became the manager for Koko and the group. Koko's first full album, a self-titled record, was released in 1969, followed by "Basic Soul" in 1972. She also put together a live album from a performance at the '72 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

After Chess went under in 1975, Koko signed with Alligator Records and produced "I Got What It Takes", which earned her a Grammy nomination. Over the next couple of decades, she continued to be fairly popular, pulling in crowds, winning a Grammy, and winning a huge number of W.C. Handy Awards.

In 1988, Koko and Pops were both injured in a van accident; Koko broke her shoulder, her collarbone, and several ribs, while Pops had a heart attack -- his health declined rapidly, and he died a few months later. After recovering, Koko made a comeback at the annual Chicago Blues Festival, released two new albums (called "Jump for Joy" and "Force of Nature"), then took a seven-year break from recording. She toured extensively and remarried before releasing a new 2000 album, "Royal Blue," which featured a slew of guest stars. She's also had several cameo roles in movies, including David Lynch's "Wild at Heart," "Blues Brothers 2000," and the Bruce Willis stinker "Mercury Rising."

Long praised as the Queen of the Blues, Koko has a big, bold, brassy voice that brings to mind singers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Big Mama Thornton, but her hard-edged voice didn't prevent her from showing every emotion possible in her music, from sadness to anger to tenderness. She could belt out a song like nobody's business -- and she continued to tour and blow the roof off of clubs, which was pretty damn impressive for someone in her 80s...

Research from and

Addendum: Earthen adds: "'Wang Dang Doodle' (Checker 1135) was her sole R&B chart single; it entered the charts in 1966 (not 1964, though it may well have been recorded then) and reached the top position of #4. It was written, produced, and had backing vocals by blues (guitar) legend Willie Dixon who also recorded frequently for Checker/Chess Records." Daaamn, I think he knew all that off the top of his head! ;)

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