Mourners belt out blues to honor Koko Taylor

June 13, 2009 6:15:32 PM PDT
Hundreds of mourners honored Chicago blues icon Koko Taylor at her funeral Friday by singing her signature song "Wang Dang Doodle" and remembering why she was known as the "Queen of the Blues." A diverse crowd of blues fans and musicians - young and old, black and white - got to their feet and sang at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition headquarters on Chicago's South Side.

"We just wanted one more act, but God chose to pull her off the stage," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "The curtain has been called."

The services came one day after a musical tribute to Taylor attended by Mayor Richard Daley, blues legend Buddy Guy, and fellow musicians Delores Scott and Vance Kelly.

Those who couldn't make Friday's services, including B.B. King, Mavis Staples and Lonnie Brooks, sent letters.

"She was an inspiration to everyone whose life she touched," King said in his letter.

Friends remembered Taylor, the daughter of sharecroppers, as reserved but with a strong presence.

"She was a shy, modest woman, but she stood up and sang with such power and such soul," said Bruce Iglauer, owner of Alligator Records and Taylor's manager.

Friday also marked the beginning of the Chicago Blues Festival. The event's Web site featured photos of Taylor performing along a note that read, "A voice that will be missed; a presence that will never be gone."

Taylor grew up in Tennessee and moved to Chicago at age 18 with her soon-to-be-husband, the late Robert "Pops" Taylor, in search of work. He later was her manager.

Taylor's daughter, Joyce "Cookie" Threatt, remembered her mother as a best friend.

"My mother has a new manager now," Threatt told the crowd. "There's a new song she has to sing."

While Taylor didn't have widespread mainstream success, her career spanned more than five decades and she was beloved by blues aficionados. Her work included the best-selling song "Wang Dang Doodle" and tunes such as "What Kind of Man is This" and "I Got What It Takes." She earned seven Grammy nominations and won in 1984.

Taylor last performed on May 7 in Memphis, Tenn., at the Blues Music Awards. She died June 3 at age 80 shortly after having surgery because of gastrointestinal bleeding.

"Blues is my life," Taylor once said. "It's a true feeling that comes from the heart, not something that just comes out of my mouth. Blues is what I love, and blues is what I always do."

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