Westmont Festival to Pay Tribute to Favorite Son, Joseph "Mojo" Morganfield
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
As a key figure in the Great Migration from Mississippi, Muddy Waters came up from the Delta and settled on Chicago’s sprawling South Side where he raised a family, jammed with fellow musicians, and revolutionized the blues. But his journey didn’t end at 4339 S. Lake Park Avenue. He made his final migration to suburban Westmont in 1973.
It was here that the former McKinley Morganfield held court with musicians like Eric Clapton who had emulated his sound and queued up to visit him at his new west suburban stomping ground.
The Westmont home also housed his growing family who slowly adapted to their new suburban lifestyle. Waters’ youngest son Joseph was in third grade when they made the move to Westmont. He had never even heard crickets before and experienced some “culture shock” as one of the only black families in town.
But it didn’t take long for the ebullient young Morganfield to make a name for himself in his new community. He became a basketball star at Westmont High School and earned a full ride scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa. As he entertained these youthful “hoop dreams,” he put aside his desire to follow in his famous father’s musical footsteps.
His musical aspirations resurfaced later in life, and it is no surprise that his Westmont connections played a huge role in launching his new career. Although Muddy Waters only lived in the town for ten years, the city fathers are well aware of the important role in played in musical history. There is a Muddy Waters exhibit in the City Centre and a downtown street that bears his name.
One of the greatest representations of Waters’ musical legacy is the annual Sunday afternoon blues session held during the Taste of Westmont. When the jam kicks off this Sunday, July 11th, it will mark the 25th anniversary of an event that has showcased blues greats like Lonnie Brooks, KoKo Taylor, Pinetop Perkins and many others.
In 2004, the Westmont Special Events Corporation (WESC) became the host organization for the Taste of Westmont and the blues theme evolved into the Muddy Waters Tribute and Blues jam. Larry McIntyre is the founder of the WESC and has worked tirelessly to promote Westmont’s proud blues heritage.
McIntyre recalled meeting Waters’ widow. Marva, and Joseph in 2005 and developing a friendship with the pair. This segued into Marva being feted as the guest of honor at the 2006 tribute. He added this was the first time that the three Morganfield brothers, “Mud,” Bill and Joe were on stage together. It was widely covered by local news outlets and McIntyre said that “anyone who attended knew that they had witnessed blues music magic.”
As McIntyre’s and Joseph Morganfield’s friendship blossomed, Morganfield told McIntyre of his desire to perform for the public. The former basketball star knew that he would be “starting from scratch” and McIntyre told him that the easiest way to get involved in the local blues scene would be to perform at the Muddy Waters Blues Jam during the Taste of Westmont weekend. Morganfield worked hard honing his craft with legendary vocalist Deitra Farr, and began to assemble a first-rate band that included his father’s former guitarist, Rick Kreher.
When it came time to market Morganfield’s new act, McIntyre suggested that he go with the “Mojo Morganfield” moniker when he played in Westmont. The show was a rousing success and the newly minted “Mojo” stuck with the name.
Morganfield released his first EP, Mojo Rising in 2018 and by 2020, he was generating reams of great press about the success of his new song, “It’s Good to Be King.” He had recently gotten married to Deborah in Westmont’s Village Hall. It seemed like everything was on the upswing for Morganfield until his life was tragically cut short when he was felled by a massive heart attack on December 10th, 2020.
McIntyre noted that Morganfield’s publicist, Lynn Orman, had scored a big “PR hit” with a feature story in the Chicago Sun-Times that broke the day before Morganfield’s untimely death. McIntyre added that he was planning to reach out to both Morganfield and Orman to congratulate them when he read the news. He said, “it didn’t seem possible” but as the news sunk in it became clear that “there was indeed a tragedy that encompassed the highest of highs to lowest of lows in the course of a single day.”
Morganfield’s affability and approachability was widely recognized by all who knew him. McIntyre said “one of the best things about Joe was his ability to make you feel special. He took time to connect with everyone. And he called everyone “friend.” So, that’s what we are going to remember when we pay tribute to him on Sunday, July 11th at the Taste of Westmont.”
McIntyre said that the blues jam will take place from 1 until 4pm and then “we will celebrate Joe.” Invited guests include Mike Wheeler, Larry Williams. Rick Kreher, John Kattke, Linsey Alexander, Nick Alexander, Demetria Taylor and members of MoJo’s band, the Mannish Boyz. Members of the Morganfield family including wife Deborah and his children will also be in attendance because “we are going to celebrate Joe right.” They will be wrapping up this musical tribute with “Got My Mojo Workin’”
McIntyre said that he will be “kicking off” the presentation with help from Orman and Rick Kreher. McIntyre will also be interviewing Morganfield’s producer, Michael Freeman, as part of the on-stage tribute.
The aforementioned “blues jam” will serve up plenty of good “mojo” for participants and audience alike. McIntyre said. “to be honest, I don’t even remember how the blues jam started, other than there were so many people who wanted to be a part of it that it was impossible to hire everybody’s band, so I created the jam” He added that the jam usually has about 50 musicians of various abilities and backgrounds sign up to play and “we get them all up there to play a song or two. It’s really nice.”
Visit TASTE OF WESTMONT (westmontevents.com) for additional details.