In a May 28 press release from the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that legendary blues musician Muddy Waters’ (birth name McKinley Morganfield) first Chicago home “is poised to become an official City of Chicago landmark.”
The agenda for the upcoming Commission on Chicago Landmarks states that the 4339 S. Lake Park property in North Kenwood will be considered for a preliminary landmark recommendation on Thursday, June 3rd.
If the Commission recommends the property for landmark status, which appears very likely based off of the Mayor’s statement, then a six-month process will ensue, involving community meetings, a DPD recommendation one month after the initial June 3rd recommendation, a second and final recommendation from the landmarks commission one month after that, and finally, three months after that, a city council vote on whether to grant the property landmark status.
Ald. Sophia King (4th) told the Herald she would abstain from voting on the landmark designation at the upcoming meeting, explaining that she preferred to get community input before endorsing any landmark designation.
However, Ald. King said she personally supported granting Waters’ home landmark status and said she would advocate in favor of such a designation at the virtual community meeting she’ll host at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 7th. Interested community members can register for the meeting here.
"Muddy Waters helped to make the Mississippi blues iconic in this city and catapulted the sound here and throughout the world. Landmarking his home is a great step in honoring this trailblazer. Looking forward to sharing my views in our upcoming community meeting. I’m hearing the community is excited as well," King said in the DPD press release.
The DPD’s announcement comes after some initial confusion, in which the current owner of Waters’ property, great-granddaughter Chandra Cooper, sent out a press release stating that Ald. King was attempting to stall the landmark designation approval process for her great-grandfather’s home.
The preliminary landmark designation is slated to go forward at the June 3rd Landmark Commissions meeting, and does not require Ald. King’s approval. Ald. King emphasized in conversation with the Herald that she personally approves of granting the property a landmark designation and will be advocating for it at her upcoming community meeting on June 7.
Ald. King also pointed to her prior work helping to landmark the former headquarters of Johnson Publishing Co., home to Ebony and Jet, as evidence of her commitment to preserving Chicago Black history.
Waters’ great-granddaughter Chandra Cooper said that she viewed obtaining landmark status as a stepping stone in her longer term goal of turning Waters’ home into the Muddy Waters MOJO Museum. She told the Herald that obtaining landmark status approval “would take (the property) to another prestigious level. In addition to that, it would allow us to get certain grants and loans. It would kind of put the gold stamp on the house.”
The MOJO Museum project has already secured a $50,000 grant from The National Trust for Historic Preservation for renovations. Getting landmark designation would make the home eligible for the city’s $6 million “adopt-a-landmark” fund. A newsletter update from The MOJO Museum website asks supporters to email city officials with their support for the buildings’ preliminary landmark designation by June 2nd.
Waters was born a sharecropper in Mississippi and, upon moving to Chicago, pioneered a new blues style utilizing electric guitar. His music touched musicians far and wide, with B.B. King, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix all citing him as an influence.
Cooper’s relationship to Waters’ Chicago home is long and personal. She said, “My mother was Muddy Waters’ granddaughter, and when I came home from the hospital we came to his house. At the time Muddy was married to Geneva (Wade), and I was his little prize, his little brown princess baby. I was in Jet Magazine with them. They loved me and nicknamed me Peaches. When Geneva died, she asked my grandfather to always take care of Peaches.
“I am in the estate of Morganfield, and I need to give my passion and love back to my family members, so that’s why I’m trying to make the museum,” she said.
Coopers hopes to convert the home into a museum with a first floor exhibit space, displaying Muddy Waters memorabilia, a basement jam studio open to Chicago musicians, and a community garden in the vacant lot adjoining the property.
Commenting on the upcoming landmark designation process, Cooper said, “I’m glad it’s on track, but it’s important that the community and alderwoman understand the significance of this building. Muddy Waters is considered the king of Chicago blues, and the home he lived in deserves a landmark. All around the world, people associate Muddy Waters with the city of Chicago.”