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Bronzeville, Near South Side

From Muddy To Chance To Noname: Bronzeville’s Newest Mural Pays Homage To Blues Past While Looking Toward Future

The mural is part of a local organization's ongoing efforts to keep blues alive.

A Blues mural featuring iconic Chicago musicians, including Muddy Waters, was unveiled in Bronzeville last month.
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OAKLAND — Blocks away from Muddy Waters’ home, a mural featuring the iconic South Side musician and others from the past and present can now be seen.

An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in late June for the Blues Travels Fast mural, on display in the parking lot of One Stop Food and Liquors, 4301 S. Lake Park Ave. Created by local artist Damon Lamar Reed, the project is part of an ongoing effort from Chicago Blues Revival to keep the genre alive.

Chance the Rapper addresses the crowd at the unveiling of “Blues Travels Fast,”a mural celebrating iconic local musicians in June.

In addition to Muddy Waters, the mural features Buddy Guy, KoKo Taylor, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Mary Lane, who at 85 is still performing with her band, the No Static Blues. Representing the present and future are award-winning artists Chance The Rapper and Noname.

“We could’ve just put [the blues artists] on the wall, and that would’ve been good, but there are a certain number of people who really wouldn’t connect to it and wouldn’t know who they are,” said Reed, a Phoenix, Arizona, native. “We wanted to show the relevancy of blues, the impact it actually had.”

The Chicago Blues Revival has worked to highlight the history of blues on the South and West sides since 2018, creating programs like the Bronzeville Blues Collaborative to bridge generational divides while celebrating the artists who made Bronzeville what it is. Giving them their flowers is a win for the city and globally, said President Jeff Pinzino.

“These are the artists who made a living playing in neighborhood clubs,” Pinzino said. “Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith was Muddy’s drummer and even lived with him for a time. This was their home.”

Blues artist Mary Lane, who also appears on the mural, performs with her band at the ribbon cutting ceremony in June.

Reed came up with the mural concept during a Zoom call with community members — some teenagers, some a little older — who lent their opinions and blues expertise to the project. It took three weeks for the School of the Art Institute graduate and his friends, including artist Pugz Atomz, to finish the work. That included pulling all-nighters to meet the deadline.

Reed, who recently worked on another mural highlighting Black medical professionals with students from Barnard Elementary School, has been a professional muralist for more than 20 years. He was once tapped by world-renowned artist Kerry James Marshall to be featured in Marshall’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

A musician in his own right, Reed uses his work to not only to pay homage, but to inform; the artist is also lending his talents to a project highlighting the city’s missing Black women and girls.

“Looking back, one of the things I learned about myself while working on the blues mural was the importance of vulnerability and self-expression. To really create good art, you need those ingredients,” Reed said. “Express yourself. Reveal who you are. That’s what I want people to take away from it.”

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