Obituaries: Koko Taylor, Sam Butera and George Edwards

Koko Taylor, a sharecropper’s daughter whose regal bearing and powerful voice earned her the title “Queen of the Blues,” died June 3 after complications from surgery for a gastrointestinal bleed. She was 80.

Taylor’s career stretched more than five decades. While she did not have widespread mainstream success, she was revered and beloved by blues aficionados, and earned worldwide acclaim for her work, which included the best-selling song “Wang Dang Doodle” and tunes such as “What Kind of Man is This” and “I Got What It Takes.” In the course of her career, Taylor was nominated seven times for Grammy awards and won in 1984.

Taylor appeared on national television numerous times and was the subject of a PBS documentary and had a small part in director David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart.”

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Sam Butera, a saxophonist who kept lounge entertainment in Las Vegas swingin’ for 50 years, died June 3 of pneumonia at the age of 81.

A New Orleans native, Butera shared the stage as the sidekick of singer and trumpet player Louis Prima and Prima’s wife, singer Keely Smith. Butera first joined Prima at a lounge gig at the Sahara hotel-casino in 1954, assembling a band called The Witnesses before moving to Las Vegas. Together, their hits included “Jump Jive an’ Wail,” “Hey Marie” and “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody.”

Prima died in 1978, but Butera didn’t stop playing until 2004, after touring, acting and collaborating with other famous entertainers. Butera recorded “Stargazer” with Frank Sinatra in 1976 and appeared in the 1960 movie “Rat Race” with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds.

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Texas A&M University band director George Edwards died May 28 of injuries he received in a traffic accident.

The 60-year-old Prairie View, Texas, music professor known to band members as “Prof” arrived at the historically black university in 1978 and built “The Marching Storm” from a small band known as “The Funky 50.”

The band and its dance troupe called “The Black Foxes” became world-renowned for their flash and showmanship. The band performed in President George W. Bush’s 2001 inaugural parade and January’s Tournament of Roses parade. The band and Texas Southern University’s “Ocean of Soul” band engaged in annual battles of the bands at their Labor Day football games.

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