On October 18th, 1926 Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri to parents Martha and Henry Berry. He was influenced by music at an early age playing in church and school. While attending Sumner High School he performed in the schools talent show and amazed the audience. Shortly after the performance he began learning guitar from Ira Harris a St. Louis Jazz legend; Harris taught Berry the basics fundamentals of becoming a great entertainer. As a teen Berry found himself in legal trouble, he and some friends dropped out of school and was arrested for robbery. Berry spent the next three years in a boy’s reform school in Jefferson, Missouri and was released on his 21st birthday. He needed to make a living so he began working in construction, photography, cosmetology, and on the assembly line at the General Motors Fisher body plant. In 1951 Berry begin playing in a band with former high school class mates; this move was helping Berry to become a household name.
In 1952 Berry joined the St. Johns Trio and the band allowed him to incorporate his upbeat brand of country music with pop and jazz. The band was a hit so much that they began attracting white people to their shows in a predominantly black community. Berry’s reputation as a showman was growing and his band was becoming well known, he was also becoming able to make music full time. He traveled to Chicago, Illinois in 1955 where he met Muddy Waters who arranged a meeting between Berry and Chess Records. In the meeting Berry played his song “Ida Red” for the executives and they immediately fell in love with his music. The record label renamed the song “Maybellene” which became Berry’s first top ten hit and the birth of “Rock & Roll.” During the late 1950’s Berry produced many more top ten hits such as “School Day,” “Rock & Roll Music” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.” During performances he would dazzled the crowd with his famous duck walk; he was also recognized for creating music that transcended music genres, race and culture.
Berry opened his own night in downtown St. Louis called Club Bandstand in 1958; the next year he met a young Native American girl in Mexico who was a waitress. Berry brought the girl back to St. Louis to work in his club; little did he know girl was 14 years old and sometimes worked as a prostitute. Berry fired the girl after working only working for a few weeks. She was later arrested for prostitution and Berry was charged in connection with her work. In 1961 he was convicted and served 20 months in prison in the state of Indiana. He was released from prison in 1964 to learn that bands such as the Beetles and the Rolling Stones were playing his rock and roll music. Berry did not let the new competition stop his shine, he went on to record such hits as “Nadine,” “No particular Place To Go” and “My Ding-A-Ling.”
In 1979 Berry released his last album Rock It which received fair reviews from the music world, but he was able to continue perfuming through the 1990’s. In 1985 he was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Grammy’s. In 1986 Berry was the first musician to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was literally one of the most influential American musicians of all-time. Berry was able to infuse country music, jazz and pop music to create a new genre of music. Rock & Roll music is often thought of music created by and for white America; this notion can’t be further from the truth. Chuck Berry like many other black musicians used their God given talent to express what was in their hearts. He did not set out to create a new genre of music but his destiny was fulfilled. Though he is often overlooked and forgotten hen we think of Rock & Roll, just know that neither the Beetles, Rolling Stones nor Rock& Roll its self would not exist if it were not for the genius of Chuck Berry. Mr. Charles Edward Anderson Berry, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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