Chuck Berry Obituary


Stratis Bohle

Chuck Berry died on Saturday, March 18th, 2017 in his home at the age of 90. He was an American guitarist, singer and songwriter and one of the pioneers of the rock and roll music genre. With songs such as Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music, and Johnny B. Goode, Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive. Writing lyrics that focused on teen life and consumerism, Berry developed a music style that included guitar solos and showmanship. He was a major influence on rock music for the next decade and a half, with John Lennon of The Beatles quoted as saying, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”

Born into a middle-class African American family in St. Louis, Missouri on October 18, 1926, Chuck Berry was interested in music from an early age and his first public performance was at Sumner High School. While still a high school student, he was convicted of armed robbery and was sent to a juvenile prison where he was held from 1944 to 1947. After his release, Berry settled into a married life with his wife, Themetta Suggs and worked at an automobile assembly plant. By early 1953, Berry began performing with the Johnnie Johnson Trio.

His big break came when he traveled to Chicago in May 1955 where he met Muddy Waters who suggested he contact Leonard Chess, who co-founded Chess Records. With Chess, he recorded Maybellene, which sold over a million copies. By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star. With several hit singles and albums, he also had film appearances and a lucrative touring career. Berry also established his own St. Louis nightclub, Berry’s Club Bandstand, which still exists to this day. But in January 1962, he was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes under the Mann Act by transporting  a 14 year old girl across state lines. After his release in 1963, Berry had several more hits, including No Particular Place to Go, You Never Can Tell, and Nadine. However, these did not achieve the same success, nor the lasting impact of his earlier songs, and by the 1970s he was a nostalgic performer, playing his past hits with local backup bands of variable quality. His insistence on being paid in cash for these events led to a four month jail sentence and community service for tax evasion in 1979.

Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it opened in 1986. Berry was ranked fifth on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll includes three of Berry’s: Johnny B. Goode, Maybellene, and Rock and Roll Music. In an even greater feat,  Berry’s Johnny B. Goode is the only rock and roll song included on the Voyager Golden Record.
Berry was among the last of the major 50’s rock and roll artists which had other notable artists such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Chuck Berry died of natural causes on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. He is survived by his wife, Themetta “Toddy” Suggs and his 4 children; Ingrid Berry, Charles Berry Jr., Aloha Berry and Melody Exes Berry-Eskridge. As long as the Voyager Golden Record flies on, Chuck Berry’s music will live on for millennia.