McKinley Morganfield was born in rural Issaquena County, Mississippi, in 1913, the son of a sharecropper who played guitar on weekends.
His mother died shortly after his birth and he was raised by his grandmother.
It was she who gave him the nickname “Muddy”, because of his “mud” for fish in a nearby cove. And when he bought his first musical instrument, the harmonica – switching to the guitar as a teenager – no one could have predicted that Morganfield was destined to become the international blues legend “Muddy Waters”.
It would come after he headed north in the Great Migration, settling in Chicago.
And on Thursday, the house in the South Side North Kenwood neighborhood where the blues icon lived and raised his family moved closer to a landmark in the city of Chicago, which was granted preliminary monument status by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
“Muddy Waters was one of the most important figures in the development of the distinctive electrified sound known as the ‘Chicago blues’. Muddy Waters skillfully married the raw acoustic Delta blues he learned in Mississippi, with amplification, to create a powerful new urban sound, ”Kendalyn Hahn, project coordinator in the Department of Planning and Development, told the panel. from Chicago.
“This 1891 structure served as the home of the blues musician and his family from 1954 to 1973. And musicians who came to record or perform in Chicago have made the house an unofficial center for the Chicago blues community. , a community largely made up of African Americans whose Gifts to the World not only shaped popular American music and subsequent generations of musicians, but also gave the world a uniquely American art form, which is a testament to the incredible resilience of the human spirit, ”said Hahn.
The property at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. is owned by Waters’ great-granddaughter, Chandra Cooper, who converted the two-brick apartment – where Waters lived on the first floor, rented the top floor and had her recording studio in the basement – in the MOJO Muddy Waters House Museum. The preliminary designation was adopted unanimously.
The project is part of burgeoning efforts to honor black history in the post-George Floyd era, and is part of a wave of home museums – including those honoring Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley, Phyllis Wheatley and Lu and Jorja Palmer – who was almost blocked by a failed order earlier this year by Ald. Sophia King (4th) to limit them.
Waters House sits in Ward 4, and while Cooper and King have battled over roadblocks in recent months, King spoke hard on Thursday in favor of the designation.
“My family is from the Mississippi Delta. And so it’s really personal for me too. My grandfather would be proud of me because he taught me how to drive in the woods of the Mississippi Delta. My mother picked cotton there. My uncle had to flee there when he was 16 for fear of being lynched, ”King said.
“So I lived these stories. To have someone like Muddy Waters who really put blues and rock’n’roll on the scene, not just here in Chicago but across the country and the world, I’m personally proud. All the challenges that I know he faced in breaking down such barriers and doing things so important – it’s obvious to me.
Arriving in Chicago in 1943, Waters played parties at home for extra money, eventually becoming a regular at local nightclubs. In 1948, Chess Records released their first hits, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home”, and his career took off.
By the early 1950s, his blues group, which at one point or another included established musicians – Otis Spann, Little Walter Jacobs, Jimmy Rogers, Elgin Evans, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton – had grown into the one of the most acclaimed in history.
Waters classics dominated the charts, becoming standards in the repertoire of English rock’n’roll groups of the 1960s, including the Beatles. The Rolling Stones take their name from Waters’ single, “(Like a) Rolling Stone”.
“On behalf of the McKinley Morganfield family, we believe it is essential to the legacy of African American history that this house be designated as a landmark,” Chandra Cooper told the panel, accompanied by his mother, Waters’ granddaughter, Amelia Cooper.
Amelia Cooper lived in the house with her grandfather from 1956 to 1973. Waters moved her family there in 1954 and bought it in 1956. Independent record companies like Chess, King, Vee Jay, Chance and Parrot, and distributors like United and Bronzeville were then headquartered around Cottage Grove at 47th to 50th Street, and the house became a gathering place for musicians to be welcomed around the clock.
At one point or another, legends like Otis Spann, Howlin ‘Wolf, and Chuck Berry have stayed on the top floor. Waters lived there until the death of his wife in 1973. He moved to the suburb of Westmont, where he lived until his death on April 30, 1983.
“I didn’t think I was going to be so emotional, but just seeing the photos and thinking about him and the struggle we went through, it was overwhelming,” Amelia Cooper said later.
“When I was born in 1956, my mother brought me back to this house. When Chandra was born in 1970, I brought her back to this same house. We have a lot of love and pride for this house. It was a tough fight and I’m proud Chandra didn’t give up.