Chuck Berry, known for his innovative music, died at the age of 90, on Saturday, March 18, 2017. The emergency call to St. Charles County Police, in Missouri, came at 12:40 p.m. CT. He lay unresponsive while lifesaving techniques were administered. Authorities declared Berry’s death at 1:26 p.m.
Berry, known for many classics, still actively played for fans until the day he passed away.
The Death of Berry Ignited Tributes
As news traveled that Berry, the rock ‘n’ roll inventor, died at 90, fellow renowned musicians took to Twitter to express grief and condolences. Evidently, the legendary artist touched many lives, spanning generations and genres. Tributes of love were stated from President Barack Obama, the Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen stated, Berry is the “greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.” Referencing Berry’s famous song, “Roll Over Beethoven,” Obama commented how much all will miss the legend. Mick Jagger shouted his sadness over his idol’s passing on three separate Twitter posts. Jagger’s tweet, “His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck you were amazing & your music is engraved inside us forever,” spoke for many.
On Jagger’s website, a page was placed in sole dedication of the man who meant so much to him. The page showcases a happy photo of the younger two men conversing. Underneath it is a paragraph reiterating statements made on Twitter.
Jagger’s bandmate, Keith Richards, stated in a tweet, “One of my big lights has gone out.” Alice Cooper referenced Berry as a rock ‘n’ roll father in his Twitter tribute. Accordingly, the Beatles’ Ringo Starr cited a Berry standard, “Just let me hear some of that rock ‘n’ roll music any old way you use it.”
Berry Was Inspired by Many
It is a sad realization that Berry, the rock ‘n’ roll inventor, is dead at 90. Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in 1926, in St. Louis. Growing up, he sang in church, and he became enthralled with the blues and country music playing on the radio. Consequently, Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker, and Nat “King” Cole influenced the young musician as he took up the guitar in high school.
Although Elvis Presley is often cited as the architect of rock ‘n’ roll, it is Berry who added the substance needed to catapult the genre. Many are credited with helping to form rock out of jazz, blues, and a little country. Duly, in the 1950s, a time of racial unrest, rock ‘n’ roll crossed racial lines, pleasing the masses. This was the result of white kids discovering the music recorded by blacks.
Alan Freed, famed Cleveland DJ, helped catapult rock with his “Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio Show,” in 1952. Radio stations took notice. Following Freed’s outline, rock shows were being placed on the air across the country. As a result, Freed took his show on the road hosting staged concerts. His first concert incited an uprising and was canceled. Hence, from that point on, rock ‘n’ roll was to be viewed as immoral by many.
As the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll was taking place, groups like Bill Haley and the Comets were catapulted into the limelight. These white artists lacked the soul that black musicians like Berry encompassed. Evidently, fans longed for more and that is what Presley gave them. Along with appealing looks, Presley gave performances that shook, rattled and rolled, much like the black artists were doing at the time.
Berry Exploded Rock and Roll
Even with Presley shaking his stuff on stage, audiences still longed for something that was missing. Berry was the very essence of music, giving the audience what they wanted with his brilliant combination of talents. The man was a triple threat with his aptitude for original writing, talented guitar playing, and rhythmic showmanship.
Berry had many huge singles that shaped rock ‘n’ roll in its early days.
- “Maybellene,” 1955, is said to be one of rock’s most influential hits with its mix of country, blues, and rhythm and blues.
- “You Can’t Catch Me,” 1956, was all about alluding police with a girl and a fast car.
- “Roll Over Beethoven,” 1956, highlighted amazing opening guitar riffs and thought provoking lyrics.
- “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” 1956, was Berry’s way of addressing racial tensions of the day, hiding lyrics within an amazing guitar riff.
- “Rock and Roll Music,” 1957, made Berry highly recognized for his writing. The Beatles and the Beach Boys both covered the addictive song.
- “Sweet Little Sixteen,” 1958, was an anthem for teens of the day.
- “Johnny B. Goode,” 1958, was somewhat autobiographical.
- “Memphis Tennessee,” 1959, was a personal statement regarding Berry’s relationship with his daughter.
- “Promised Land,” 1964, allowed for Berry to shout out his support for civil rights.
- “No Particular Way to Go,” 1964, was all about hanging, just riding around in a car.
The famed musician is well recognized for his amazing guitar riffs. Specifically, he wrote his song, “Johnny B. Goode,” to begin with a long guitar display. The song story itself is a wonderful example of Berry’s writing talent in detailing an illiterate, talented, guitar-playing country boy.
When the news broke, stating Berry, the rock ‘n’ roll inventor is dead at 90, the history detailing his contributions to rock is being highlighted. Berry came on the scene to add substance that would be the glue that held rock ‘n’ roll together and propel it into the future. He was an original in all aspects, writing his own songs with poetic material provoking listeners to think along while dancing.
By Carol Ruth Weber
Edited by Tracy Blake
Chicago Tribune: Chuck Berry, revolutionary guitarist-songwriter, dead at 90
NPR: Tributes To Chuck Berry Pour In: ‘One Of My Big Lights Has Gone Out’
Twitter: Chuck Berry
Mick Jagger: Chuck Berry
Vulture: Chuck Berry Invented the Idea of Rock and Roll
Featured and Top Image by Michael Borkson Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License