BIOGRAPHY

Chuck Berry’s music has transcended generations. He earns respect to this day because he was truly an entertainer. Berry, also known as “The Father of Rock & Roll," gained success by watching the audience’s reaction and playing accordingly, putting his listeners’ amusement above all else. For this reason, tunes like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene” and “Memphis” have become anthems to an integrated American youth and popular culture. Berry is a musical icon who established rock and roll as a musical form and brought the worlds of black and white together in song. Born in St. Louis on October 18, 1926 Berry had many influences on his life that shaped his musical style. He emulated the smooth vocal clarity of his idol, Nat King Cole, while playing blues songs from bands like Muddy Waters. For his first stage performance, Berry chose to sing a Jay McShann song called “Confessin’ the Blues.” It was at his high school’s student musical performance, when the blues was well-liked but not considered appropriate for such an event. He got a thunderous applause for his daring choice, and from then on, Berry had to be onstage.

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> GUITAR LESSONS

Berry took up the guitar after that, inspired by his partner in the school production. He found that if he learned rhythm changes and blues chords, he could play most of the popular songs on the radio at the time. His friend, Ira Harris, showed him techniques on the guitar that would become the foundation of Berry’s original sound. Then in 1952, he began playing guitar and singing in a club band whose song list ranged from blues to ballads to calypso to country. Berry was becoming an accomplished showman, incorporating gestures and facial expressions to go with the lyrics. It was in 1953 that Chuck Berry joined the Sir John’s Trio (eventually renamed the Chuck Berry Combo), which played the popular Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis. Country-western music was big at the time, so Berry decided to use some of the riffs and create his own unique hillbilly sound. The black audience thought he was crazy at first, but couldn’t resist trying to dance along with it. Since country was popular with white people, they began to come to the shows, and the audience was at some points almost 40 percent white. Berry’s stage show antics were getting attention, but the other band members did their parts as well. In his own words: “I would slur my strings to make a passage that Johnnie (Johnson) could not produce with piano keys but the answer would be so close that he would get a tremendous ovation. His answer would sound similar to some that Jerry Lee Lewis’s fingers later began to flay.”

> SOME GOOD ADVICE

Later in 1955, Berry went on a road trip to Chicago, where he chanced upon a club where his idol, Muddy Waters, was performing. He arrived late and only heard the last song, but when it was over he got the attention of Waters and asked him who to see about making a record. Waters replied, “Yeah, Leonard Chess. Yeah, Chess Records over on Forty-seventh and Cottage.” Berry went there on Monday and discovered it was a blues label where greats like Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley recorded. He didn’t have any tapes to show, but Chess was willing to listen if he brought some back from St. Louis. So Berry went home and recorded some originals, including the would-be “Maybellene,” then called “Ida May,” and drove back to Chicago later that week to audition. Much to Berry’s surprise, it was that hillbilly number that caught Chess’ attention. Berry was signed to Chess Records and in the summer of 1955, “Maybellene” reached #5 on the Pop Charts and #1 on the R&B Charts. Through Chuck Berry, Chess Records moved from the R&B genre into the mainstream and Berry himself was on his way to stardom.

> THE REST IS HISTORY

Berry continued his success with such hits as “Brown-Eyed Man,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Memphis,” “Roll Over, Beethoven!” and “Johnny B. Goode.” “Johnny B. Goode” is Berry’s masterpiece, as it brought together all the elements of Berry’s unique musical sound. It cemented his place in rock history and led to fame in the 1950s. His popularity garnered him television and movie appearances and he toured frequently. Berry’s incredible success is due to his ability to articulate the concerns and attitudes of his audience in his music. At the height of his success, Berry was a 30-year-old black man singing to a mostly white, teenage audience. Dubbed the “Eternal Teenager,” Chuck Berry’s knowledge of the pop market made it possible for him to break color barriers and play to an integrated audience. In the 1960s and 1970s, Berry’s music was the inspiration for such groups as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Berry had a number of comeback recordings and in 1972 had the first and only #1 Pop Chart hit of his career with “My Ding-A-Ling. 1986 fittingly saw him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the very first inductee in history. As a tribute to his pervasiveness in the realm of rock, a clip of “Johnny B. Goode” was chosen played in the Voyager I spacecraft, proving Chuck Berry and his rock legacy are truly out of this world.


QUOTES


FILMS

DATE

TITLE

1995 History of Rock 'n' Roll - Rock 'n' Roll Explodes
1993 History of Rock 'n' Roll - Guitar Heroes
1993 Bluesland: A Portrait in American Music
1987 Chuck Berry: Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roll
1985 Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley's Rock 'n' Roll All-Star Jam
1982 National Lampoon's Class Reunion
1978 American Hot Wax
1973 London Rock and Roll Show of 1973
1973 Let the Good Times Roll
1969 Little Richard: Keep on Rockin'
1969 Chuck Berry: Rock 'n' Roll Music
1965 Chuck Berry Hosts: BORN TO ROCK - The T.A.M.I. - T.N.T. Show
1959 Jazz on a Summer's Day
1959 Go Johnny Go (PAL only)
1957 Mister Rock and Roll
1956 Rock, Rock, Rock
NA Chuck Berry: Live at the Roxy with Tina Turner
NA Joined on Stage By Tina Turner

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

  • Present Day Performs at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar located in St. Louis, Mo., one Wednesday each month. June 27, 2006 "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll" is re-released on DVD for the first time ever.
  • September 2, 1995 Performs "Johnny B. Goode" alongside Bruce Springsteen at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
  • October 8, 1987 The film " Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll" is released. It is a live tribute to Berry, and is directed by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
  • 1987 Publishes his honest and insightful autobiography.
  • January 23, 1986 Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York City.
  • February 26, 1985 Receives Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards.
  • June 1, 1979 Performs for President Jimmy Carter.
  • March 1, 1978 Appears as himself in the film "American Hot Wax," a biography about deejay Alan Freed.
  • October 21, 1972 The song "My Ding-a-Ling" (originally "My Tambourine") reaches No. 1, the only Berry recording to top the charts.
  • May 1, 1972 The London Chuck Berry Sessions is released; it becomes Berry's top-selling album, hitting No. 8 on the charts.
  • 1965 Appears in concert film featuring the TAMI (Teen-Age Music International) Show, along with The Beach Boys, Rolling Stones and more.
  • May 31, 1961 Opens own amusement park, called Berryland, outside St. Louis.
  • March 17, 1958 "Sweet Little Sixteen" grabs No. 1 spot on R&B chart and No. 2 on pop chart, while rock & roll classic"Johnny B. Goode" gets No. 2 on R&B and No. 8 on pop.
  • September-November 1957 Goes on tour with the "Biggest Show of Stars for '57," which also included Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, etc.
  • June 30, 1956 Berry's song "Roll Over Beethoven" takes the second spot on the R&B chart, and gets to No. 29 on the pop chart.
  • September 1955 "Maybellene" hits No. 5 on Billboard's Rock and Roll Singles chart.
  • May 21, 1955 Records first songs, "Maybellene" and "Wee Wee Hours."
  • May 1955 Takes a roadtrip to Chicago; talks briefly to Muddy Waters, who refers him to Chess Records. There he lands a recording contract.
  • December 30, 1952 Receives a call from pianist Johnnie Johnson asking Berry to join the Sir John's Trio, a band that played at the very popular Cosmopolitan Club.
  • June 13, 1952 Joins Tommy Stevens in a house band that played Huff's Garden every Saturday.
  • 1941 Performs at his school's musical stage performance, singing "Confessin' The Blues" while accompanied by his friend, Tommy Stevens, on guitar. Stevens' powerful performance inspires him to learn how to play the instrument himself.

AWARDS

  • 2014 Polar Music Prize
  • 2012 PEN Literary Award Winner
  • 2002 BMI ICON award winner; other winners were Little Richard and Bo Diddley
  • 1987 Receives a star on Hollywood Boulevard in California
  • 1989 Honored with a star on Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis, Missouri
  • 1985 Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • 1985 Receives Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards
  • 1982 Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame

ACHIEVEMENTS

  • First singer/songwriter of 1955
  • First guitarist/singer to get on Billboard charts
  • Directly inspired great rock icons The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley
  • United blacks and whites by producing music that appealed to everyone
  • His single "Johnny B. Goode" made the top 10 in 1958
  • Had the number one single in 1972 with "My Ding-a-ling"
  • Performed for President Jimmy Carter at the White House in 1975
  • Was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986
  • Released his autobiography in 1987
  • "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" made its debut in 1987
  • Berry performed "Johnny B. Goode" with Bruce Springsteen at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995
  • 1977 Johnny Be Goode included content on Voyager 1 spacecraft

FAST FACTS

GENERAL INFORMATION

  • Birth Name: Charles Edward Anderson Berry
  • Nicknames: Father of Rock ‘N’ Roll, The Prime Minister of Rock ‘N’ Roll
  • Occupation: Musician
  • Born: October 18, 1926
  • Birth place: St. Louis, Mo.
  • Parents: Henry and Martha Berry
  • Wife: Themetta Suggs-Berry
  • Children: Darlin Ingrid Berry-Clay, Melody Exes Berry-Eskridge, Aloha Isa Lei Berry, Charles Edward Berry Jr.
  • Siblings: Henry, Thelma, Lucy, Paul, Martha
  • Weight: 180 lbs
  • Musically influenced by: Nat "King" Cole, Muddy Waters
  • Trademark: Duckwalk

FAVORITES

  • Food: Enjoyed beef and seafood, peaches, home fries, candied yams, chili, grape soda, orange juice, Snickers bars and Dutch apple pie. Despised liver, okra, gumbo, celery, carrots, cooked onions, grapefruit, salami and liquor.
  • Hobbies: Playing music, softball, twenty questions, chess, croquet, highway driving
  • Comedians: Lucille Ball