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Summary Article: Chuck Berry (1926–)
from African American Almanac
Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist

Charles Anderson Edwards “Chuck” Berry, considered “the Father of Rock and Roll,” was born on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a middle-class family. He and his family were active in church and he sang in the choir. As a teenager he was taught to play the acoustic guitar by jazz guitarist Ira Harris. After years of various jobs, a stint in prison for robbery, and getting married, Berry purchased his first electric guitar in 1950. He began performing and using his trademark move, the duck walk. Berry attributes the move to a desire to hide wrinkles on his only suit during a performance.

In 1955 Berry, while performing in Chicago, recorded “Maybellene” in hopes of getting a record contract. Berry later performed for Chess Records and, based on his song “Ida Red,” they signed him. Berry reworked “Maybellene” before re-recording it and it reached number one on the R&B charts and crossed over to the pop charts reaching number five. “Maybellene” combined Chicago blues, country guitar, and storytelling and is considered the first true rock and roll song. Berry followed this hit with “Roll Over, Beethoven” (1956), “School Days” (1957), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957), “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958), and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958). His hits continued in the 1960s with “Nadine” and “Dear Daddy” and in the 1970s with “Rock It.”

Berry was the first guitar hero of rock and roll, and his 1950s jukebox hits remain some of the most imaginative poetic tales in the history of popular music. Berry was influenced by blues artists like T-Bone Walker and the picking styles of rockabilly and country musicians, and his solo guitar work brought the guitar to the forefront of R&B. His driving ensemble sound paved the way for the emergence of bands from the Beach Boys to the Rolling Stones. Berry was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and received Kennedy Center Honors in 2000.

Copyright © 2012 by Visible Ink Press®

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