Muddy Waters’ former home to be converted to museum

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Muddy Waters

By Arshad Raheem

The Muddy Waters MOJO Museum is one step closer to completing renovations to the former home of the six-time Grammy-winning Blues musician’s brick house.

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund granted a $50,000 grant to transform the home, situated at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. into a museum and community center.

McKinley Morganfield, better known by his stage name, Muddy Waters, purchased the house in 1954 and used it for nearly the next two decades as a rehearsal space until his death in 1983. In 2013, the Department of Buildings deemed the Chicago property unsafe, and the building was threatened with demolition.

“The city of Liverpool would recognize the historic, cultural and tourism value of John Lennon’s house and never allow it to be torn down,” said Bruce Iglauer, president and founder of Alligator Records, a major Blues label, in 2013. “Muddy Waters was every bit as important to the blues and to Chicago as the Beatles were to rock ‘n’ roll and Liverpool.”

The renovations include multiple levels with the first floor of the home being turned into a community museum honoring the Blues legend.

The basement, where Waters would practice with artists like Keith Richards, will be transformed into a recording studio and lounge.

“We want to be able to support older artists as well and as a small venue, where people can go in the basement and do a little recording, because while it wasn’t a recording studio downstairs — it was a rehearsal studio — we’d like to incorporate that into the overall experience,” Chandra Cooper, president of the MOJO Museum and granddaughter of Muddy Waters, said.

The grant does bring MOJO Museum closer to reality by allowing the group to preserve the home but Cooper knows the museum needs more than $300,000 total to bring the dream into reality, so more fundraising is needed. “Why not teach our kids about the Blues? We can do it right there in this house,” Cooper said. “Why not teach budding artists to play it and why not use this as a small venue. We’re not distracting from the neighborhood, we want to add to it.”

Community members tend to agree with Cooper’s assertion. Maggie Johnson, who previously knew the significance of the home, was ecstatic to learn of the renovations.

“We can’t lose our history,” Johnson, who stays three blocks from the location of the future museum, said.

“With how things are going this may be one of our last opportunities to really show children the Blues. Music with value, history. It’s our culture and we need to make sure it lives.”

The Muddy Waters MOJO Museum project will hopefully be completed in two years, but still depends on when fundraising goals can be met, according to Cooper.

But the funds from the grant will greatly assist with stopping the home from any further destruction.

“It was so significant to get this grant money from the trust because it’s really saving this house from any more deterioration,” Cooper said.

The MOJO Museum was not the only Chicago site awarded a grant this year, the Sweet Water Foundation, 5749 S. Perry Ave., also got a $50,000 planning grant to develop a reuse plan to revitalize 10 blocks in Washington Park.

“Preservation literally is just a tool to be able to preserve culture and be able to have a positive impact on people’s lives,”

Action Fund Executive Director Brent Leggs said. “The Action Fund is a social movement for positive social change, and we leverage culture.

We leverage historic landscapes and historic buildings, and Chicago has the most remarkable collection of 20th century sites arguably anywhere in the world.”

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