Chicago Tribune Editorial: Cure for the Chicago Blues: Save Muddy Waters’ House

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“Blues music, that romping, stomping, wailing, grieving art form, came out of the singing and storytelling traditions of the African American South. But it reached its peak of power here in sweet home Chicago.

“Peak of power as in exciting, electrified blues, amplified to be heard above the din of crowded clubs. Peak of power as in the brilliant collection of blues musicians who came to Chicago as part of the Black migration to live and play on the South and West sides. Those singers, writers, guitarists, harmonica players and others are mostly gone now.

“We’re not writing an elegy. We’re not trying to sing the blues. The music will never die. What’s frustrating is there are too few physical landmarks in Chicago properly honoring the history of blues — not enough sites of significance in the city for visiting music fans to pay homage. That oversight feels especially obvious given the national conversation about the need for statues and monuments that respect the Black experience in America.

“So it’s time to do more to honor Chicago blues, and it should start at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. That’s the former home of Muddy Waters, the artist who got his mojo working in Chicago, who used his powerful, emotive voice to sing of being a hoochie coochie man and rollin’ stone and become one of the greatest blues performers of all time.

“Waters, born McKinley Morganfield in Mississippi, came north in 1943 and owned the house in North Kenwood from 1954 to 1974. He lived there and used the basement as a rehearsal space; members of his band stayed there. Waters died in 1983. The home is vacant and in disrepair, but Waters’ great-granddaughter, Chandra Cooper, wants to convert the two-flat, red-brick residence with a coned rooftop into the Muddy Waters MOJO museum. This month, her plan got a jump-start when the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded a $50,000 grant to Cooper’s nonprofit organization as part of a series of contributions to projects that preserve African American history.

“‘I want to keep my great-grandfather’s legacy alive,’ Cooper tells us. ‘Beyond his legacy, this is the story of the Chicago blues. There are only a couple of things we have that represent the Chicago blues. We have the Chess Records building (at 2120 S. Michigan Ave.) and we have this.’ She says she needs to raise $150,000 more to stabilize the property, the first step in her vision to create a museum and community center, with a lounge and recording studio in the basement and an outdoor space.

“Blues artist Paul Oscher, a member of the Muddy Waters Blues Band from 1967 to 1971, lived in the basement. He says Waters, his home and the neighborhood are integral to the blues story. The home is sanctified ground, he tells us. ‘If Chopin has a house, that’s a museum. If Mozart has a house, that’s a museum. Muddy Waters needs a house that’s a museum.’ (Chicago Tribune, 7/27/20)

Read the full story at the Chicago Tribune

Editorial: Cure for the Chicago Blues: Save Muddy Waters’ House, The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune, 7/27/20

Muddy Waters’ house gets renovations grant from African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, Aaron Gettinger, Hyde Park Herald, 7/20/20

Column: Push to turn Muddy Waters’ house into museum gets boost with grant, Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune, 7/20/20

Mojo Museum Website

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