Life and career
Born Cora Walton
in Shelby County, Tennessee, Taylor was the daughter of a sharecropper. She left Memphis for Chicago, Illinois, in 1952 with her husband, truck driver Robert "Pops" Taylor. In the late 1950s she began singing in Chicago blues clubs. She was spotted by Willie Dixon in 1962, and this led to wider performances and her first recording contract. In 1965, Taylor was signed by Chess Records subsidiary Checker Records where she recorded "Wang Dang Doodle", a song written by Dixon and recorded by Howlin' Wolf five years earlier. The record became a hit, reaching number four on the R&B charts and number 58 on the pop charts in 1966, and selling a million copies. Taylor recorded several versions of "Wang Dang Doodle" over the years, including a live version at the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival with harmonica player Little Walter and guitarist Hound Dog Taylor. Taylor subsequently recorded more material, both original and covers, but never repeated that initial chart success.National touring in the late 1960s and early 1970s improved her fan base, and she became accessible to a wider record-buying public when she signed with Alligator Records in 1975. She recorded nine albums for Alligator, 8 of which were Grammy-nominated, and came to dominate the female blues singer ranks, winning twenty five W. C. Handy Awards (more than any other artist). After her recovery from a near-fatal car crash in 1989, the 1990s found Taylor in films such as Blues Brothers 2000
and Wild at Heart
, and she opened a blues club on Division Street in Chicago in 1994, which relocated to Wabash Ave in Chicago's South Loop in 2000. (The club is now closed.)Taylor influenced musicians such as Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, Janis Joplin, Shannon Curfman, and Susan Tedeschi. In the years prior to her death, she performed over 70 concerts a year and resided just south of Chicago in Country Club Hills, Illinois.In 2008, the Internal Revenue Service said that Taylor owed $400,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. Her tax problems concerned 1998, 2000 and 2001; for those years combined, her adjusted gross income was $949,000.Taylor's final performance was at the Blues Music Awards, on May 7, 2009. She suffered complications from surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding on May 19, 2009, and died on June 3 of that year.
- Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album – 1985
- Howlin' Wolf Award – 1996
- Blues Hall of Fame – Inducted 1997
- Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award – 1999
- NEA National Heritage Fellowship – 2004
- Blues Music Award (formerly the W. C. Handy Award) – 24 times, including the following categories:
- Contemporary Blues Female Artist
- Entertainer of the Year
- Female Artist
- Traditional Blues Female Artist
- Vocalist of the Year
- At age 76 in 2004, she appeared as a special guest with Taj Mahal on an episode of Arthur.
- At age 80 in 2008, she appeared as a special guest with Umphrey's McGee at their New Year's Eve performance at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.
- Taylor won for Best Blues Album in The 7th Annual Independent Music Awards