Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry (October 18, 1926-March 18, 2017) was a true musical legend, a pioneer of rock n roll, and one of the pioneering fathers of redefining rhythm and blues. Born to a middle-class African American family in St Louis, Missiouri, Chuck took an early interest in music. His first public appearance was playing at Sumner High School.
Chuck ran into some legal trouble. He got himself arrested and convicted of armed robbery while in High School. He spent the years 1944-1947 in a reformatory. Upon release, he settled into married life and and worked in an automobile assembly plant. Still, the desire for music called to him. He started performing with the Johnnie Johnson Trio and got his big break in music when, on a trip to Chicago, he met Muddy Waters (the blues legend) who told Chuck to contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. At Chess Records, Chuck recorded “Maybelline,” Chuck’s interpretation of the country song “Ida Red.” Maybelline went on to sell over a million records and hit #1 on the Billboard Charts. The rest, as they say, is history.
What is perhaps the most amazing part of Chuck’s journey is that he reached popularity in a time before the Civil Rights movement. Some of the venues he played, he probably wouldn’t have even been allowed in if not for the fact that he was performing. But with such hits like “No Particular Place To Go,” “Rock n Roll Music,” and perhaps his greatest hit “Johnny B. Goode,” not even bigotry could stop this musical genius from achieving the fame he deserved.
His music continues to be popular, and his catchy hit “You Never Can Tell” was featured in Quentin Tarrantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” There’s no doubt that Chuck’s music will continue to forever be a part of pop culture and the stuff of legends. He took music and knocked down doors. He paved the way for other artists of color to be truly appreciated and given the respect they deserve.
We lost a legend this week, but his music, his legacy–they will all live on. In a way, Chuck Berry is now more immortal than ever. It’s a sad day for the music community, but one can’t help but smile at the thought of what the concerts in Heaven must sound like right about now.
“Hey, Prince. Wanna jam out to Purple Rain?”
“Sure, brother. Let’s do this.”
R.I.P. Chuck Berry. Thank you for all you gave us. “Johnny wasn’t just Goode, he was fucking fantastic.”
Jay Michael Wright II