The Heartening Illustrated Story of How Blues Pioneer Muddy Waters Transmuted Loss and Loneliness into Music That Changed History
By Maria Popova
Beethoven believed that music saved his life — he found in it “the joy of suffering overcome.” A century and a half later, this hard-earned joy alighted to another musician of groundbreaking genius and far-reaching influence: McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913–April 30, 1983), better known as Muddy Waters — a nickname the pioneering blues musician acquired as a child for being fond of playing in the muddy creek by the house where his grandmother raised him after his single mother died when he was a baby.
Muddy found in music a kind of self-salvation — a way to “take fate by the throat,” as Beethoven had resolved to do in the face of his own misfortune — then went on to change the sonic fate of the twentieth century, inspiring the birth of rock’n’roll. “All of us, we’re links in a chain,” Pete Seger — who greatly admired Waters — observed of the lineage of creative influences. The long chain of Muddy Waters’s influence stretches from AC/DC to Bob Dylan to Martin Scorsese. The Rolling Stones took their name from one of his songs, as did Rolling Stone magazine.
His heartening example of transmuting loss and loneliness into fuel for creative breakthrough comes alive in Michael Mahin’s Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (public library), arrestingly illustrated by Evan Turk — a wonderful addition to the ever-growing canon of picture-books celebrating great artists and scientists.
One night, Muddy watched his hero, blues legend Son House, smash an empty bottle, take the bottleneck, and smooth its jagged edges over a fire.
“This is called a slide,” he said, dragging the bottleneck up the strings.
The guitar howled like a wolf: powerful, lonely, and proud.
That was the sound of the Mississippi Delta. That was the sound Muddy heard in his heart.
Complement Muddy with other lovely picture-books celebrating visionary artists, writes, and scientists: Ada Lovelace, E.E. Cummings, Paul Gauguin, Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, Louis Braille, Pablo Neruda, Jane Goodall, Louise Bourgeois, Albert Einstein, John Lewis, Paul Erdős, and Nellie Bly.
Published December 12, 2017