WIN: Muddy Waters House Museum Awarded $1.1M Grant

“The effort to turn the former home of blues great Muddy Waters into a museum got its biggest financial boost to date, a $1.1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation.

“The grant will go toward restoring the basement level, which will become the main exhibit space in the red brick two-flat at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave., and ‘will catapult us to the next level in the project,’ Chandra Cooper, great granddaughter of the musician and president of Muddy Waters Mojo Museum, wrote in an email to Crain’s.

“Coming from one of the nation’s biggest funders of arts and humanities projects, a foundation with a reported endowment of $6.1 billion, the money is a vote of confidence ‘in this project and the importance of blues and the Muddy Waters legacy,’ Cooper wrote. McKinley Morganfield, who used the stage name Muddy Waters, was ‘a sharecropper with an American dream who became a worldwide, legendary singer,’ Cooper wrote.

“In 2022, the museum got $366,000 in grants from the city for renovations: $250,000 for the exterior and about $116,000 for the interior. Those followed a $50,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to start renovations. The building had not been occupied for more than a decade before Cooper’s effort to create a museum began several years ago. The photo at the top of this story is from before renovations began.

“The Mellon grant ‘is monumental proof that the story we want to tell and share about Muddy Waters, Chicago blues and the history of the blues is relevant and timeless,’ Cooper wrote in the email. The story of a young Black man coming up to Chicago during the Great Migration and pioneering a new, influential style of music ‘is not only African American history, it’s definitely a part of the American story,’ she wrote.

“Mississippi-born McKinley Morganfield bought the red-brick two-flat in 1954 and lived there until the late 1970s, when he moved with his children to Westmont. It remains in the family’s hands 69 years after he bought it.

“While living on Lake Park Avenue, Muddy Waters had his biggest musical successes, including three singles that reached highest on the R&B charts: ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,’ ‘Mannish Boy’ and ‘Just Make Love to Me.’

“Cooper has spent the past few years shepherding the house through the process of getting it declared a city landmark and cultivating financial support for the museum. She has not yet announced an opening date for the museum.”‘ (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/8/23)

Preservation Chicago applauds Chandra Cooper’s dedication in face of adversity and her fierce love for this important part of Chicago’s cultural heritage.

We’re thrilled that Ms. Cooper is receiving the recognition and support necessary to make the MOJO Muddy Waters House Museum a reality. She is a visionary and dedicated leader and we will continue to support her and this this effort until the MOJO Museum celebrates its grand opening. We’re equally thrilled that the long-endangered Muddy Waters home has been recognized with a Chicago Landmark Designation and that the necessary funding support has gained momentum to make the dream a reality.

Preservation Chicago worked very closely with Ms. Cooper to help navigate the many steps to achieve her goals. We played a strong role in supporting the effort to protect and landmark the Muddy Waters home. Additionally, our petition with nearly 33,000 signatures and other advocacy efforts played a decisive role in publicizing the proposed House Museum Ban ordinance that would have been devastating for emerging house museums like the Muddy Waters home, and scores of arts and cultural centers across Chicago. We advocated to encourage the City of Chicago to sell the adjacent vacant lot to that it could be used as a garden for the MOJO Museum


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