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Muddy Waters’ family will launch drive to fund repairs to his home

Muddy Waters' grandsSteven Mckinley Monson.  | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Muddy Waters' grandson Steven Mckinley Monson. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 7, 2013 7:34PM



Amelia “Cookie” Cooper never goes by the abandoned home at 4339 S. Lake Park anymore.

“There is no way I can,” says Muddy Waters’ granddaughter, who was raised by Muddy and his wife Geneva. “I grew up in that house.”

Boarded windows cast the longest shadows.

The historic house is in the city’s vacant building court. Her father, McKinley Morganfield (aka Muddy Waters), lived in the home between 1954 and 1974, the fertile years of the merging of blues and rock ’n’ roll.

The house is on the Landmark Illinois 2013 “Ten Most Endangered Historic Places” list. Cooper, 57, left North Kenwood in 1974 with Muddy and his wife Geneva for Westmont.

Muddy wanted to build a better life for his five children.

And now Cooper’s son Steven Mckinley Monson is spearheading a drive to uplift the house.

He will launch a Kickstarter campaign, “Mo Money Mo Blues,” on Wednesday after documenting on video the mostly European visitors who make pilgrimages to the house during the Chicago Blues Festival. He is trying to plan a series of benefit concerts through House of Blues clubs across the country. A local theater owner has offered assistance. Monson would like to have an annual Watersworld Music Festival.

The family has its eye on the 100th anniversary of Muddy’s birth on April 4, 1915.

Monson, 32, has his mojo working.

His sister Chandra Cooper is sole owner of the house. Her attorneys are meeting with the foreclosing bank on Tuesday. On Friday she engaged a Chicago real estate agent to sell the property at a price to be determined. The house returns to vacant building court June 20. City inspectors have expressed concern about loose and falling bricks on the home’s facade.

The city has appointed Neighborhood Housing Services as receiver. “Our involvement gives all parties time to save the building before the court decides on demolition,” says Bryan Esenberg, the group’s head of receivership. “As a nonprofit committed to community building, the last thing we want to see happen is demolition. We have been asked to prepare bids for the repair of items identified by court as dangerous and hazardous to the public and emergency responders.”

Chicago Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said, “The city is trying everything they can do to save the building.”

Esenberg estimates a gut rehab at $100 a square foot. “It would be $200,000 — $250,000 worst case scenario — to fix it up,” he says. The nonprofit is inspecting the house Monday.

Cooper’s attorney, Erik Miles, on Friday issued a statement: “Ms. Cooper’s intent is to preserve this historic landmark which the entire community enjoys. We look forward to a successful resolution of the matters pending.”

Monson’s Kickstarter monies would go towards house repairs.

“We’d like to turn the house into a museum and rebuild the recording studio downstairs [where Muddy jammed with piano player Otis Spann]. I’d love to set up an after-school program where kids can record,” says Monson, who lives on the South Side and never resided in Waters’ house.

Monson, assistant director of admissions at the Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago, has networked with the Black Ensemble Theater and the DuSable Museum of African American History. “People want to get involved,” he says.

Cooper’s mother was Azalene Morganfield, Waters’ daughter, who died when she was young. Cooper was raised by Muddy and Geneva, who died of cancer in 1973. Everyone at 4339 S. Lake knew the bloodline granddaughter as Muddy’s daughter. He nicknamed her “Cookie.”

“I’m short and he said I looked like a lemon-drop Archway cookie,” Cooper says in a rare interview.

She graduated from King High School in 1974. “I only had a few months left in high school and commuted [from Westmont] on the Burlington Northern,” she says. Cooper is now a manager in laboratory support service at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. Her husband, Gilbert Sanders, is a truck driver. They live in Bolingbrook. Monson is her son from her first marriage.

Monson has never met the best-known of Muddy’s children, blues musician Larry “Mud” Morganfield. “Muddy had lots of kids,” he says. “I want to reach out to [Morganfield]. The whole family needs to save Muddy’s house.”

Cooper reflects, “Westmont ended up loving Muddy. His manager [Scott Cameron] lived in Willowbrook. So he took us around. We didn’t know where we were once we got past Cicero on I-55. At first we were kind of tentative about Westmont, but Muddy raised us to get along with everybody.”

Waters was so neighborly, Cooper remembers visitors to the Westmont house including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, about the time Muddy married Marva (Jean Brooks, in 1976). They would just drop in. Cooper says, “Eric Clapton was there all the time.

“What are they called, ZZ Hill? ZZ Top? I remember them because I thought they were the weirdest-looking people.”

Cooper says Muddy’s heart always remained at 4339 S. Lake Park.

“It was hard for him to let go of that house once we left, because that was his beginning,” she explains. “He had tenants. Then some of the family members lived there. The estate [also in the courts] should have made it a museum. Buddy Guy wanted the house, but the estate would not OK for him to sign. There is so much history in that house. All my life growing up it was Otis Spann. James Cotton. Little Walter. Pinetop Perkins. Willie Smith. It is a landmark.” Her voice stops.

She continues, “He only moved to Westmont to do better for his children.”

Guy says, “I went to look at the house for my book and nobody’s done anything. Chicago is so bad with its landmarks. Austin is the capital of the blues? Are you kidding me? If Stevie Ray Vaughan was living and you told him that, he would shoot you.”

At 5 feet 8 inches tall and 180 pounds, Monson was a starting cornerback for four years at Ball State University and played arena football for the Quad City Steam Rollers. He excelled in basketball, football and track at Bolingbrook High School.

He maintains the keen vision of an athlete.

“I am a man of faith,” he says. “My goal was to open an arts school in memory of my grandfather. I’ve never been the type of man: ‘You know who I’m related to?’ Now an opportunity presented itself for me to do something with the house, and I couldn’t let it slip away. I owe it to the name, the blood that is flowing through me.”



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