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Reviewed by:
  • Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin
  • Elizabeth Bush
Mahin, Michael Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters; illus. by Evan Turk. Atheneum, 2017 48p
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-4349-4 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-4350-0 $10.99 R* 6-8 yrs

Chicagoans may claim Mississippi-born blues guitar artist McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, as their own, but the fact that he arrived in the Windy City as part of the Great Migration and his influence on a range of international musicians means he defies parochialism. This picture-book biography follows Muddy from his Delta childhood under the care of a churchgoing, blues-skeptic grandmother to his first recording success on the Aristocrat label. Mahin introduces a young audience to a man whose desire for commercial recognition (and the artistic compromises that might entail) conflicted with his personal need to play music on his own terms, infusing it with “the dust, and the plow, and the meanness of the land, and the softness of King Cotton” that he drew from his Mississippi sharecropper childhood. Turk’s mixed-media and collage artwork roils with waves of darkness and explosive color, even as it models compositional control, and Muddy is always defined with an electric hue that keeps him in sharp focus. When he’s under the thumb of his grandmother or a recording studio mogul, figures and settings are noticeably more formal and rigid; when he lets loose in his own gritty style, spreads burst with dense pattern, texture, and energy. Mahin’s lyricism and rolling cadence make the text a readaloud delight: “To have the blues was to feel bad./But to play the blues was to take that low-down,/ skunk-funk, deep-stomach hurt/and turn it into something else.” An author’s note, complete with photograph, adds context, and short lists for further reading and listening are appended. [End Page 26]