Wang dang doodle Choir at Koko's wake 2042

Long Live The Queen
Koko Taylor Laid To Rest/Chicago Blues Festival

We arrived in Chicago Thursday, June 11th, 2009, the evening before the start of the Chicago Blues Festival and eight days after our Queen of the Blues - Koko Taylor died. Our first stop at Buddy Guy’s we found it surrounded by tall fencing dressed in green cloth blocking all the sidewalks under construction. The front door  was closed due to wet cement and so we slid into side door. Lurrie Bell was on stage getting Legends fest weekend on. Next it was the State of Mississippi’s reception at Blues Heaven that once was Chess Records’ Studio & headquarters. A new Mississippi Trail Marker had just been placed and unveiled only a few blocks away at Randolph and Michigan in Grant Park honoring all the Mississippi blues men & women who migrated to Chicago from the south. We spoke to Marie Dixon—one of Koko’s longest friends who knew Koko from the very beginning when she recorded for her husband Willie Dixon’s smash hit “Wang Dang Doodle.” Marie was in good spirits and even sang a few licks for us from a Buddy Guy song. In fact it really was a “Wang Dang Doodle” of a weekend. Koko and her signature song were on everyone’s mind and was sung & played everywhere we went. After checking into our hotel, we made it to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s church PUSH/Rainbow Coalition’s headquarters on the South Side at 50th & Drexel. It is a huge church with tall columns and inside it is a downward sloping auditorium like hall with beige padded seats instead of pews. Draping the altar/stage backdrop was two huge banners with beautiful photos of Koko with a message in between: “Celebrating the life of Koko Taylor.” Cloudy blue with black print  prayer cards were given out with Koko’s smiling photo on one side and on the back were some humble words from Koko, “I had a wang dang doodle of a life and without you there was no me!”  And, “ For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16. We stood near the sound board where musicians were lining up to go on stage to talk and play.  Two Blues Machine--Vino & Frank spoke about how Koko would show them the beat by the stomp of her foot. During the last song led by Dolores Scott with over a dozen ladies singing “Wang Dang Doodle” we sat near Koko’s family and her beautiful shiny gold coffin with baby angels on each corner and a plaque on the sides of Jesus' Last Supper that was draped in a large flowering white bouquet. The coffin had been open previously for viewing before we had arrived and we had heard that Buddy Guy and Mayor Daly had been there. Afterwards Koko’s daughter graciously invited us upstairs for a musicians’ reception where we spoke to Otis Clay and Vino Louden plus saw Billy Branch & Donald Kinsey as well as many members of the Dixon clan. We left to find Cool River Draught House in Homer Glen that was about 30 minutes away. On their door was a large poster of Koko with Rest In Peace. It was their Blues Jam night and the place was packed. After meeting the owner and listening to a few songs we made more rounds stopping at Rosa’s then B.L.U.E.S. where we saw the Chicago R&B Kings Across the street at Kingston Mines—Around 2 am we strolled across the street with B.LU.E.S  manager--Jennifer Littletonn who invited us to go support Nellie Tiger Travis who did a set for Koko  after Joanna Connor had just finished on the stage in the next room  and was changing a guitar string. At first we didn't recognize her with her short hair.

Buddy Guys constuction didn't stop junior 1997

Friday afternoon we first stopped by the Chicago Blues Festival in time to see Big Jack Johnson and soon left to find Space in Evanston and found it to be a perfect spot for Earwig's 30th Anniversary bash. We drove south down Chicago to Clark and on to Lakeshore Drive and saw a beautiful shiny blue Lake Michigan where a few folks were jumping in as we returned to the PUSH/Rainbow Coalition church with about a hundred people waited for almost two hours for the doors to open. Finally a black & gold hearse arrived and Koko’s coffin was gently carried up the stairs. Then Koko’s family dressed in white arrived and gathered on the steps and formed a procession to go inside. We finally made our way slowly to the front where we were greeted by Bruce Iglauer. Across the isle we consoled Koko’s daughter Cookie holding her husband Lee’s hand and their daughter Peaches and Koko’s husband Hays Harris and Koko’s oldest sister Aunt Vi plus many family members. I glanced at Koko’s body laying on white silk, dressed in a deep sunflower gold shimmering dress with a diamond tiara on her hair. Huge bouquets of flowers were everywhere and a beautiful program was distributed to the audience. Rev. Jesse Jackson began the eulogy. “We just wanted one more act, but God chose to pull her off the stage. The curtain has been closed.” He as well paid homage to “Wang Dang Doodle.” B.B. King’s letter said how Koko inspired everyone plus there was letters from Mavis Staples and Lonnie Brooks' letters were read. Then the music began to lift our spirits with Joe Barr, Jerry Butler, Dorothy Moore, Diunne Greenleaf, Janiva Magness, Shemekia, Nellie Tiger Travis, Chick Rogers and Otis Clay. Afterwards we stopped by the Chicago Blues Festival to dine at the State of Mississippi’s backstage party next to Petrillo where Eddie C. Campbell was holding court and celebrating his 70th birthday. Next it was time to return to Space in Evanston, IL for Earwig's Bash. We found Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Aaron Burton & Patrick Rynn standing around at the backdoor. We entered and there stood David "Honeyboy" Edwards smiling who had just left the stage. And it's always good to see Bill & Sheila Wax as well as Bob & Kim Corritore.

junior, marie dixon & scott Baretta at Blues heaven 2005

On Saturday morning the sky was cryinng as the Queen of the Blues was laid to rest and white doves were released. Around noon we walked two blocks from our hotel to have a blues brunch at Buddy Guy’s Legends with Jimmy Burns on stage who stopped his show to announce, “Robert Jr. Whitall – Big City Blues Magazine” is here and his wife, “Sugar Mae” as we walked by the stage and waved. That woke us right up and Buddy’s biscuits are delicious! We then made our way to the newly secured Chicago Blues Festival surrounded by tall fencing wrapped in green cloth.  At the Route 66 Stage we listened to a slide guitar workshop with Elmore James, Jr, Lil Ed, John Primer and Jeremy Spencer. Also next to its stage back in the corner of the tent  we met “Mr. Diddley Bo”—Charles Willis who instructed us on how to assemble a diddley bo. We ran into Lindsey & Jo Shannon from BB’s Lawnside BBQ—Kansas City, MO and visited with them most of the evening as we listened to the ladies sing the blues on Petrolli with Bettye Lavette as the headliner. As we drove up Lakeshore Drive to Fullerton going to back to our hole in the wall: B.L.U.E.S. with Jimmy Johnson but the traffic suddently stopped due to police blocking Halstead for a nude bicycle parade. We couldn’t believe our eyes and it was about 50 degrees—hundreds of naked people on bikes. (We laughed as Robert Jr. remembers seeing Koko at Michigan Nudestock around 1995, Koko loved it so much that she jumped over a snow fence to shake her fans hands that had nothing on except hats!) It was so packed at B.L.U.E.S. that we decided that we better move on and come back latter. So we moved on to Reggies for Delmark’s party that was also packed to the rafters but we managed to grab a barstool next Big Jack Johnson with his wife and son. I asked him how Sam Carr is doing and he said, “Good! He’s at an old folk’s home.” Then, Big Jack got summoned to the stage and we stayed for a song and left for Lee’s Unleaded where we saw Johnny Drummer dressed in blue and Brown Sugar dressed in silver tights and knee high black patent boots. It was good to see Sarge back up and dancing. We then had to stop back by Buddy Guy’s to catch Magic Slim who happened to have special guest John Primer on stage with him. Then we made it back in time to see Jimmy Johnson at B.L.U.E.S. before we called it a night. We had another delicious brunch at Legends to start our day and hung out at the State of Mississippi Stage with Honeyboy Edwards who reminded us that he drinks nothing but the best whiskey! Robert Jr. created and arranged a cover photo shoot with Big Jack Johnson, Honeyboy, Michael Frank & Alex Thomas at the new Mississippi Trail Marker in between their sets. Big thanks to Michael Frank and Alex Thomas. At home in Detroit the next evening while talking to Mother Owens about Koko's funeral, hovering over ourp blooming pink and purple honeysuckle vine, a brown eyed hummingbird appeared. We have never seen one since  we moved there 8 years ago despite all of our hummingbird efforts- feeders and flowers. It was a peaceful omen that Koko is still humming a tune somewhere over the rainbow and singing the blues.-Shirley Mae Owens & Robert Jr. Whitall

Long live the QUEEN — Koko is sleeping 2048

Janiva singing to the Queen 2104

Rev Jesse Jackson leading the Praise for our sister & mother — Koko 2085

Koko's family getting ready to say goodbye 2078

Koko arrives at her funeral 2071

BB Queen, Junior, Little Koko at Koko's visitation 2070

Mississippi Trail Marker 2205

Michael Frank & Honeyboy in Grant Park at the Mississippi Trail Marker 2204

Junior getting a bodiddley made 2180

Guy King At Buddy Guys Legends 2176

John Primer & Magic Slim@Buddy Guy's Legends 2174

Brown Sugar at Lee's Unleaded 2172

Cool River Blues — LV Banks 2058

Koko Taylor 1988 Photo by Robert Jr Whitall

Queen of the Blues – Koko Taylor, 1928 – 2009

My husband Robert Jr. Whitall returned Otis Clay’s call this afternoon concerning media support for a Blues Machine’s fundraiser. (The Blues Machine is Koko Taylor’s band that is still recovering from a horrific car accident last August). Robert Jr. asked Otis how Koko was doing and he paused and replied that he hated to be the bearer of bad news but she is on life support and everyone is rushing to the hospital to say goodbye. (I flashed back to 6 years ago when Robert Jr. & I visited Koko in the hospital - so small and curled up in a coma for weeks and things were not looking good. But Koko surprised everyone and came back and sang and danced on many stages). So I immediately called Koko’s daughter Cookie and asked how “Mama” was doing. She was barely audible and I thought she said, “She has only a few minutes left and doctors are coming and going.” I asked, “What did you say?” I couldn’t believe what Cookie was telling me and I cried and told her how much we love Koko. She asked me to please call Roger (Naber) for her and tell him how much Koko loves him too. I remember the first time I met Koko in July, 1982 at The Blue Note in Columbia, MO. My friend Luana Hays had just moved from Chicago and knew Koko well. Also back then I heard Koko’s songs on KOPN, 89.5 FM where Bill Wax (XM’s Bluesville) was the Program Director. So we made plans to see Koko and after the show we celebrated my birthday plus Koko’s first husband’s—Pops & Luana’s birthday at my house. Koko and I became instant friends. A year later I moved back home to Kansas City, MO where I met Roger Naber who was promoting a show with Koko. Soon I was initiated into the Kansas City Blues Society and from 1989-1999, I hosted two blues radio shows a week on KKFI, 90.1FM. I saw Koko perform hundreds of times and she always had time for me. I was part of her extended family. She became my “Mama.” I could call her up anytime of the day. And I did so often. In 1999 I moved to Detroit and married Robert Jr. Whitall publisher of Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine. Now I was much closer to “Mama”—only 5 hours away. In the last 10 years I luckily had more quality time with Koko than I had ever thought possible. Her door was always open to us. Over the past 2 years, I was amazed by Koko’s stamina especially on the 7-day Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise – Pacific last October ‘08. She was all over that ship singing, writing songs, dancing and laughing. Robert Jr. and I stopped by her home annually around the New Year. Last year we reminisced in her living room with Koko and her oldest sister—Aunt Vi who lives with her as well as her daughter and son-in-law - Joyce “Cookie” & Lee. Koko & Vi would talk and sing and laugh about their early life with their daddy and how poor they were but didn’t know it. Koko’s pink bedroom overflowed with photos with her smiling with celebrities and presidents showed how far she came from that poor sharecropper farm. She was known around the world as the “Queen of the Blues” and always had time for her fans. The last time I saw Koko was on May 7th in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards where she picked up her record setting 29th BMA (more than any other blues musician) and little did we know that Koko was performing the blues one last time with The Mannish Boys. God Bless You Koko Taylor – Queen of the Blues, may you rest in peace.
Shirley Mae Owens –Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine, June 3, 2009

Koko at home

Koko Taylor & her Blues machine