Charles Edward Anderson Berry, popularly known as Chuck Berry, was born on October 18, 1926. He was an American singer, composer, and guitarist who helped pioneer rock and roll music. He was dubbed the ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ for refining and growing rhythm and blues into the fundamental ingredients that made rock and roll distinctive. It was reflected in his songs like ‘Maybellene,’ ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ Berry influenced later rock music by composing songs about adolescence and materialism, as well as establishing a music style that stressed guitar solos and showmanship. He is deserving of particular mention on his birthday today.
Chuck Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 18, 1926. He was born to Henry, a contractor and Baptist church deacon, and Martha, a certified public school administrator. For his education, he attended Sumner High School. In Kansas City, he was caught and convicted of armed robbery and car theft at gunpoint in 1944. He was sentenced to three years at Algoa’s Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men. In 1948, Berry got married to a girl named Themetta “Toddy” Suggs. He worked many jobs to support his family, from working as a factory worker in automobile assembly plants, as a janitor in an apartment, and as a beautician. He studied cosmetology at the Poro College of Cosmetology and performed in many nightclubs.
Berry teamed up with pianist Johnnie Johnson and drummer Ebby Harding in 1952. Their band quickly rose to prominence in St. Louis. In 1955, he met Muddy Waters, a well-known American blues artist in Chicago, and he was recommended to contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. The Chess Label gave him a contract. ‘Maybellene,’ the first single, sold a million copies and reached number one on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart. In 1956, he wrote ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ which ranked 29th on the Billboard Top 100 chart. He produced many U.S. hit singles between 1957 and 1959, including ‘School Days,’ ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ Three of his eight singles in 1964 also charted in the top 20 on the Billboard 100. Berry recorded five albums on the Mercury label from 1966 to 1969, but he returned to the Chess label in 1970. They released a live version of ‘My Ding-a-Ling,’ which became his only number one hit. He toured widely with his Gibson guitar during the 1970s.
On June 1, 1979, Berry played at the White House at the request of the then U.S. President, Jimmy Carter. He went on tour in Europe in 2008, and he was already in his 80s at the time. On his 90th birthday, he announced the release of his final studio album, “Chuck,” but unfortunately, he died before the album was released in June 2017. On March 18, 2017, Berry died of a heart attack at his home in Wentzville, Missouri, leaving four children and a wife.
In Chicago, he meets Muddy Waters, a well-known American blues artist, who suggests he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records.
'Maybellene,' the first single, sells a million copies and peaks at number one on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart.
“After School Session” is released under Chess Records.
Berry wins the Grammy ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Award.
He is one of the musicians to be inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.
He ranks seventh on “Time” magazine's list of the ‘10 Best Electric Guitar Players of All Time.’
Why We Love Chuck Berry
He pioneered rock and roll
If he hadn't lived, perhaps someone else would have done it, but the music would have sounded different. It may have been good, or it could have been even better! However, it would not sound like rock and roll because it would not sound like Chuck Berry.
He was funny
Humor is unquestionably the most underappreciated component of the rock and roll equation. Is it possible for great rock and roll to exist without it? Possibly. But humor was always present in Berry's music, beginning with ‘Maybellene,’ which is a hilarious take on not getting the girl.
He was a unifier
He brought together people who couldn't agree on anything else. "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry," John Lennon said. "You can't play rock guitar if you don’t know every Chuck Berry lick," Ted Nugent claimed.
5 Surprising Facts
President Bill Clinton was a huge fan
Berry performed at both Clinton's inaugurations and the White House's 25th Georgetown reunion.
His monthly gig in St. Louis
Berry had a monthly stand-up gig at a Blueberry Hill restaurant for 18 years, from 1996 to 2014, doing a total of 209 shows, the last of which was on October 15, 2014.
He only accepted cash
He insisted on receiving his royalties in cash before going on stage due to some unpleasant encounters early in his career.
He never sold merch at his shows
To make extra money, most bands sell t-shirts, C.D.s, and other merchandise, but Berry never did.
His song went to space
‘Johnny B. Goode’ was the sole rock and roll song on the Voyager Record Golden when NASA launched Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, carrying a golden plate containing music, images, and sounds from Earth.
Chuck Berry FAQs
What was Chuck Berry's favorite food?
He loved to eat the following: beef, seafood, peaches, home fries, candied yams, chili, grape soda, orange juice, Snickers bars, and Dutch apple pie.
Who did Chuck Berry leave his money to?
He left a secure inheritance for his wife and four children. His wife, Themetta, is entitled to at least half of the money and half ownership of the intellectual property.
What was Chuck Berry's favorite guitar?
It was a 1978 Gibson ES-355.
Chuck Berry’s birthday dates