Chuck Berry Passes Away

The man known as the “Father of Rock-n-Roll, Chuck Berry, was found dead Saturday at a home outside of St. Louis, police in St. Charles County said. He was 90 years old.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr. was idolized by many up and coming musicians and artists in his heyday such as the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. As John Lennon once said, “”If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'”

A partial list of his classics include Johnny B. Goode, Maybellene, Around and Around, Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, School Days, Memphis, Nadine and No Particular Place to Go.

In a time when racial prejudice was the law of the land, Berry had to navigate through a minefield of bias in society and the music business, especially in the south, where his music was particularly popular. After getting the shaft from promoters during his younger years and not getting paid what he was promised, once he began making hits and had some celebrity and name recognition, he insisted that promoters pay him in full, straight cash homie, before he took the stage.

Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 1926.  His parents were grandchildren of slaves who went on to achieve things in their own right. His father Henry was a successful carpenter, and mother Martha was a college graduate, which was incredibly rare for a black woman at the time. 

After singing in a high school talent show, he was inspired to learn how to play the guitar and with his incredibly large hands, went on the master the instrument in ways that many before him never had. 

In 1955, at the suggestion of bluesman Muddy Waters, Berry visited Chess Records in Chicago, the pioneering blues and R&B label. He was asked to cut a few songs. One of them, “Maybellene” — a rewrite of an old country tune called “Ida Red” — was released by Chess in August. Within weeks, it had topped the R&B charts and hit No. 5 on the Billboard pop charts. Chuck Berry was suddenly an overnight sensation with a hit record.

The Beatles and Rolling Stones, about to kick off the British Invasion of America, covered his music in the ’60s, which tells you all you need to know about how his fingerprints and impact stretched all over the globe. 

In addition to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he had a statue dedicated to him in St. Louis, received PEN New England’s inaugural award for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a BMI Icon honor and a Kennedy Center Honors Award, at which President Bill Clinton called him “one of the 20th Century’s most influential musicians.”

R.I.P., Chuck.

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