Where did Muddy Waters come from? That, though it seems simple enough, is a difficult question to answer. Everything about his early days is unclear, from his lineage to the very day of his birth. Things that seem like simple, basic facts to those of us living in today’s world, were parts of Muddy Waters identity that he never knew or that he changed so frequently that it was difficult to know if when was lying and when he was telling the truth.
Muddy Water’s mother went by “Berta”, and though it was probably a nickname, it is unknown what her full name was. She was born sometime between 1893 and 1901, but the exact year is unknown. She was in her teens when she became pregnant with Muddy, but it is hard to know exactly when. At this time in the South there were no birth certificates issued when a baby was born, instead the family recorded the information of the date of birth and the name of the baby in the family Bible. Because of this, it is difficult to find the exact birthdays of most people in Muddy Waters’ life. There is also nothing documenting Berta’s death, but we do know that she died at a fairly young age. Muddy was raised by his Grandmother, Della Grant. The identity of Muddy’s father, as it often was in those days, is unknown, even to this day.
Muddy Waters’ also had inconsistent records concerning his age, however he used this to his advantage by changing the year of his birth just as he pleased. Most sources give his date of birth to be April 4, 1913. This date was the one submitted on his Social Security card application from the 1940s. However, on his gravestone the date reads 1915. This may have been an attempt by Muddy to appear younger than he was in order to more effectively cut into the music industry.
Muddy Waters gravestone, complete with the (probably) incorrect birth year is seen above. His given name was “McKinley Morganfield”, however he was named Muddy Waters by his grandmother due to the mischief in the mud that he would get into as a little kid.