“Ya’ll gotta keep the blues alive”

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Mercy Morganfield didn’t have what you’d call a traditional relationship with her famous godfather. “He was just in my heart,”  the Washington D.C. woman said this week.

The 54-year-old daughter of blues man McKinley Morganfield — known to the world as Muddy Waters — didn’t get to know her father well until she was a teenager.  When Mercy’s mother passed away at the age of 33 in Mississippi, she began spending summers with her father in Chicago. It would be several more years before she met her godfather. B.B. King, the legendary “King of the Blues” who died last week at the age of 89.

She, her siblings and other relatives want to preserve the history and tradition of the blues played by her father and godfather.

“I remember my mother saying to me, ‘Well you know B.B. King is your godfather; but again my mother would say, ‘You know your father is Muddy Waters,’ and I would say, ‘Well I don’t know either one of those people,’ ” said Mercy Morganfield.  “Then I got to know Daddy and he would say, ‘You know B.B. King is your godfather.’ ”

Mercy Morganfield first met Riley B. King at her father’s funeral in 1983. She’s not sure she will make it to her godfather’s funeral later this month but she will always remember his kindness.

“At Daddy’s funeral, B.B. King was there and he was looking for me. He came over and said some things to me but I was too distraught to register anything. Then I met him later on in Chicago and he took a picture with me backstage.”

She met King again at the unveiling ceremony of a postal stamp featuring her father’s image.

One of her fondest memories shows Muddy Waters’ humble side.  His baby was graduating magna cum laude from Jackson State University in Mississippi and despite being ill, he insisted on attending the ceremony. The man with a third grade education truly enjoyed seeing his daughter graduate third in her class.

Sick with lung cancer, he came with his oxygen tank in tow. When people found out Muddy Waters was in the audience, they wanted to recognize him. He wouldn’t allow it, saying this was his daughter’s day. Later, he pulled her aside and said,  ‘Mercy D., you were smart weren’t you? You are going to be alright.”

On his death bed, he asked Mercy and her musician brothers to preserve their family history, which is also American history. “Ya’ll gotta keep the blues alive,” he told them.

Mercy and her cousin Robbie Morganfield are rightfully proud of their family legacy and the rich tradition of Mississippi Delta blues musicianship. Robbie’s father and other Morganfield brothers were musicians with a gift for making their music universal,  he said.

What originated in their tiny hometown of Rolling Fork, MS. — with the guitarists and harmonica players in their family and with B.B. King, who grew up in nearby Indianola, MS as the son of sharecroppers — should be preserved and celebrated.

Mercy Morganfield recently became executor of her father’s estate, which was previously managed by Waters’ longtime manager, Scott Cameron, who died in February.

She wants to work with PBS and HBO to dig more deeply into the history of the blues, “and how it impacted not just music but our identity and the way we see ourselves.”

The movie “Cadillac Records,” which told the story of Chicago record producer Leonard Chess, and prominently featured her father, Etta James and Chester Arthur Burnett (aka Howlin’ Wolf)  barely scratched the surface, she said, adding that she is glad the movie was made because it helped introduce the blues to some people.

“The blues are so much more than music,” she said. “It’s Americana, it’s history, it’s origin.”

Watch Muddy Waters and his band perform “Got my Mojo Workin’ “ back in 1966.

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