(April 4, 1915-April 30, 1983)
Muddy Waters grew up in the cotton country of Mississippi and taught himself harmonica as a child. He later took up guitar, eagerly absorbing the classic delta blues styles of Robert Johnson and Son House. He was first recorded in 1941 by archivist Alan Lomax. In 1943 he moved to Chicago; there he broke with the country blues style by playing over a heavy dance rhythm, adopting the electric guitar and adding piano and drums while retaining a moan-and-shout vocal style and lyrics that were by turns mournful, boastful, and risqué. The result came to be known as urban blues, from which sprang in large part later forms such as rock music and soul music. A surge in interest in the roots of popular music in the early 1960s brought Waters widespread fame, and he performed internationally into the 1970s. "Muddy was a master of just the right notes," John Hammond, Jr., told Guitar World. "It was profound guitar playing, deep and simple…. more country blues transposed to the electric guitar, the kind of playing that enhanced the lyrics, gave profundity to the words themselves." Two years after his death, the city that made Muddy Waters (and vice versa) honored him by changing the name of 43rd Street to Muddy Waters Drive. Following Waters' death, B.B. King told Guitar World, "It's going to be years and years before most people realize how great he was to American music."