Rock-n-Roll Legend Passes; Leaves Legacy, Multitude of Hits, Influence That Will Last Forever
“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”
— John Lennon
ST. LOUIS – He was known to many as “The Prime Minister of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
No matter how you characterize him, Chuck Berry is a Rock ‘n’ Roll legend whose music will last forever in Halls of Fame and the hearts of millions.
Berry passed away at the age of 90 at his home near St. Louis, Missouri.
The family shared the announcement on Facebook and releasing the following message about Berry’s death.
“We are deeply saddened to announce that Chuck Berry – beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather – passed away at his home today at the age of 90. Though his health had deteriorated recently, he spent his last days at home surrounded by the love of his family and friends. The Berry family asks that you respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA as Charles Edward Anderson Berry to a Black contractor and deacon of a Baptist church and his mother, a qualified school principal. He was the third of six children.
As a teenager, Berry did time in a reform school for armed robbery, the first of several brushes with the law.
He originally wanted to be a professional photographer, but was inspired to pick up the guitar after singing in a high school talent show. He also started singing and playing in a band to buy cameras and photography equipment. Some of his photographs are hanging in galleries around the world today.
He also worked as a janitor, carpenter and hairdresser during his life.
Undaunted, Berry overcame Jim Crow America to survive racism, threats and places that didn’t always welcome him.
He was one of the most important influential figures in rock-n-roll in the 1950s, besides Elvis Presley.
History of Black Music
Slaves were originally brought to North America to work on cotton plantations in the South.
A by-product of the slavery era was the bringing of polyphonic songs from literally hundreds of ethnic groups from across West Africa.
In the United States, these sounds from multiple cultural traditions merged with influences from polka, waltzes and other European music.
The influence of African Americans on mainstream American began in the 19th century, when the banjo became a popular instrument. African-derived rhythms were incorporated into popular songs by Stephen Foster and other songwriters.
Drawing on traditional work songs, African American slaves began performing a wide variety of Negro spirituals and other Christian music. Many of these songs were coded messages of subversion against slaveholders or escape. Later the music transformed over decades giving birth the Blues, Jazz, Black Rock-n-Roll and R&B, Soul and Rap eras.
Berry served three jail terms–for armed robbery in 1944, for violation of the Mann Act in 1959 and for income-tax evasion in 1979. He served two years in the state penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, and was released in February 1964.
However, Berry was resilient through ups and downs and did not give up or quit on the music that brought him solace and told the story of his walk through life.
Rising Superstar/Music Icon
In 1955, Berry got his big break in music when he traveled to Chess Records in Chicago to meet Leonard Chess.
He also made his national television debut on November 8, 1957 on New American Bandstand 1965 (1952) performing “Rock and Roll Music” twice in a row, by demand of the teenage dancers in the studio.
He went onto make well known classic hits like, “Maybellene” and “Johnny B Goode” and other well-known as distinctive chiming “Chuck Berry riff”, “Around and Around”, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”, “School Days”, “Memphis”, “Nadine”, “No Particular Place to Go”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Rock and Roll Music” and “Sweet Little Sixteen”.
He made appearances in movies Rock, Rock, Rock, Mr. Rock and Roll, and Go Johnny Go.
He as inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a charter member and the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986.
He also received the John F. Kennedy Center Honors in 2000.
Berry Respected by Many
Thousands of tributes have come in since his death, but many let him know of his greatness long before his passing.
Motown legend Smokey Robinson said of Berry. “You are most certainly the inspiration for all of today’s rock ‘n’ roll guitarists. Your music is timeless.”
Former President Bill Clinton called him “one of the 20th Century’s most influential musicians.”
In a statement about Berry, Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone in 2009 that “In my universe, Chuck is irreplaceable. All that brilliance is still there, and he’s still a force of nature. As long as Chuck Berry’s around, everything’s as it should be. This is a man who has been through it all. The world treated him so nasty. But in the end, it was the world that got beat.”
Clive Anderson said of Berry’s great talent. “While Elvis was a country boy who sang “black” to some degree … Chuck Berry provided the mirror image where country music was filtered through an R&B sensibility.”
Finally, “Chuck Berry is “a musical scientist who discovered a cure for the blues,” according to singer Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Until his passing, he performed on a Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant in the Delmar Loop neighborhood in St. Louis.
By: Darwin Campbell
Wikipedia, ChuckBerry.com and Jahsonic.com contributed information to this article.