FEATURE image: Muddy Waters, King of the Chicago Blues, by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra in a photograph taken in May 2021. The 10-story mural tribute was painted in 2017 and is located on State Street in Downtown Chicago.
This 100-foot-tall (10 stories) mural of legendary Chicago blues musician Muddy Waters (1913-1983) was dedicated in June 2017 on the north wall of the 19-story Stevens Building at 17 N. State Street in Downtown Chicago.
Painted by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra (b. 1975), it took over two weeks to paint it. The new mural covered over a big, yellow “Go Do Good” painting. The Stevens Building itself is a notable early skyscraper on the east side of State Street near its intersection with Washington Street. When it was built in 1912 by Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912), it was one of the most modern business structures In Chicago and filled with retail shops. The Charles A. Stevens & Bros. building is nineteen stories above ground and three below,
The colorful portrait mural of Muddy Waters is part of a campaign to beautify the walls of some tall buildings in Chicago as well as to mark the significance of Black music in Chicago. Specifically, Eduardo Kobra’s mural is a tribute to the legacy of Muddy Waters in the Chicago blues music scene. Among Muddy Waters’ many titles and accolades, he may be perhaps best known as the “King of Chicago Blues.”
Growing up in Mississippi, Muddy Waters was first exposed to music at the local Baptist church. During World War II, when Muddy Waters was still in his 20’s, he moved from Mississippi to Chicago. He came to Chicago because he wanted to be a professional musician and Chicago since the 1920’s had been a center for jazz and blues music production.
In 1951 when Muddy Waters recorded his song “Still A Fool” at newly-founded Chess Records on the southside of Chicago, he started the next decade making several blues classics. In 1951, the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, both around Waters’ age, wanted the new blues musician to record using the new label’s professional musicians instead of Waters’ own band.
By September 1953 Waters was recording with his own band which became one of the most acclaimed blues bands in history. It included Little Walter Jacobs (1930-1968), a Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame harmonica virtuoso; Jimmy Rogers (1924-1997), a Blues Hall of Fame musician on guitar who, with Little Walter and Muddy Waters, helped define the Chicago Blues sound; rural blues legend Elga Speed Edmonds (1909-1966) on drums; distinctive keyboard stylist and Blues Hall of Fame inductee Otis Spann (1930-1970) on piano—and, at times on bass, Willie Dixon (1915-1992), Grammy Award winner, and inductee in the Blues, Rock and Roll, and Songwriters Halls of Fame. The clarity of the clip of Muddy Waters’ electric guitar and his gravelly voice, deep and wide, were also distinctive features in a career that spanned 50 years and included 11 Grammy Award nominations with 6 wins.
In June 2017 at the dedication of the mural at the busy intersection of State and Washington Streets in the heart of downtown Chicago’s business/shopping districts, Muddy Waters’ family was in attendance. Of Muddy Waters’ legacy, born in Mississippi and living and working in Chicagoland since the 1940’s, Rolling Stone wrote: “With him the blues came up from the Delta and went electric.”