The world’s first “house of blues” is poised to become an official City of Chicago landmark, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced today.
The former home of blues legend McKinley Morganfield, professionally known as Muddy Waters, at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave., will be considered for a preliminary landmark recommendation by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday, June 3.
“This uniquely significant structure was an epicenter of Chicago’s contributions to modern blues, serving as Muddy Waters’ home for nearly two decades and providing temporary lodging and rehearsal space for countless household names that defined the art form,” Mayor Lightfoot said.
Morganfield and family moved into the North Kenwood two-flat in 1954, 11 years after he arrived in Chicago from the Mississippi Delta to expand his music career and find work at factories during World War II. Two years later he purchased the building. It was the only residence the musician ever owned in the city and was a place where Chicago blues luminaries rehearsed and crossed paths with internationally established artists. Top 10 Billboard hits that Morganfield popularized while living in the home include: “Louisiana Blues,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I’m Ready,” “Mannish Boy” and “Close to You,” among other notable songs, according to a Landmarks Commission staff report.
The brick structure, constructed in 1891, provided living space on the first floor for the Morganfield family, rehearsal space in the basement for musicians, and two apartments on the second floor for tenants and short-term visitors, including Otis Spann, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry.
Due to the family’s open-door hospitality, the building was a routine gathering place for Chicago blues royalty. On warm summer days, basement rehearsals would sometimes move to the front yard and porch, treating the entire neighborhood to impromptu live performances. Notable band members and close collaborators included Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Willie Dixon, Hubert Sumlin, Earl Hooker and many others.
In 1973, the Morganfield family moved to Westmont. The building is currently owned by Chandra Cooper, Morganfield’s great granddaughter, who supports the proposed designation.
“My family hails from ‘the Sip,’ specifically the Delta, as well,” Ald. Sophia King (4th) said. “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.”
The building is already a contributing structure within the North Kenwood Chicago landmark district.
“The individual landmark designation would further recognize the incredible contributions that Chicago’s African-American residents have made to social and cultural movements that continue to resonate worldwide,” added Maurice Cox, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, which provides staff services to the Landmarks Commission. The Chicago homes of Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley, Lorraine Hansberry, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Charles and Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs are also designated Chicago landmarks.
If the preliminary recommendation of the Morganfield home is approved by the Landmarks Commission, the proposal would be subject to a final recommendation this summer. The final recommendation would be forwarded to City Council for formal consideration as an individual landmark. The designation would protect the structure’s exterior elevations from significant alteration or demolition.