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Muddy Waters House In North Kenwood Granted Preliminary Landmark Status

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The longtime North Kenwood home of Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters is poised to become an official city landmark, after the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted Thursday to grant the house preliminary landmark status.

The commission will consider a final recommendation to landmark the home later this summer, and that recommendation would then go to the Chicago City Council for a vote.

Waters, a six-time Grammy-winner and a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, is considered the "father of Chicago blues."

Born McKinley Morganfield, Waters grew up in Mississippi and moved to Chicago in 1943 to expand his music career and find work in the city's factories during World War II.

In 1954, he moved into a brick two-flat at 4339 S. Lake Park Av., where he and his family lived until 1973. It was the only home he ever owned in Chicago, and was where he lived when he wrote hit songs like "Louisiana Blues," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "I'm Ready," "Mannish Boy," and "Close to You."

Built in 1891, the two-flat is where Waters' family lived on the first floor, while the basement featured rehearsal space for Waters and other musicians. The second floor featured two apartments for tenants and visitors like fellow blues musicians Otis Spann and Howlin' Wolf.

Granting official landmark status to the home would protect its exterior structure and other significant historic features from significant alteration or demolition, according to the city's Department of Planning and Development.

Planning and Development project coordinator Kandalyn Hahn said the significant architectural features identified by the city include all exterior walls, including the roofline; the non-original basement entrance which existed while Waters lived there; and exterior alterations made by Waters, including the concrete porch, metal railings, and front bay window.

Waters' great granddaughter, Chandra Cooper, now owns the home, and said she supports the bid to grant the house landmark status.

"We believe it is essential culturally, and for the legacy of African American history, that this home is designated a city of Chicago landmark," she said. "Visitors from across the world, today, to this city and visit that house on a yearly basis."

Cooper's mother, Amelia, lived in the house from 1956 to 1973, said "I am without words with this acknowledgment."

"It would be a great bonus to the blues world and to our family to have this acknowledgment," she said.

Ald. Sophia King (4th), whose ward is where the home is located, said her family is also from the Mississippi Delta, just as Waters was, and faced many of the same challenges he did in the Deep South.

"This is truly personal for me as well. My grandfather would be proud of me, because he taught me to drive in literally the back woods of the Mississippi Delta. My mother picked cotton there. My uncle had to flee there when he was 16, because of fear of lynching," she said. "To have somebody like Muddy Waters, who really put the blues and rock and roll on the stage, not just here in Chicago, but across the country and the world, I'm proud to personally elevate someone from my hometown area."

The non-profit Muddy Waters Original Jam Out (MOJO) Museum is raising money to preserve the deteriorating and boarded-up home and turn it into a museum and cultural center.

Landmarks Illinois has provided a $2,500 grant to the MOJO Museum to be used for repairing the roof, replacing and repairing windows, fixing exterior masonry, and repairing interior water damage.

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