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Chuck Berry Died at 90

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Chuck Berry – Johnny B-Goode

Chuck Berry, the Father of Rock and Roll, Has Died at 90 by Michael @write_Miller 

Legendary musician Chuck Berry has died, police confirm. He was 90.

The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri confirmed on Facebook that they responded to a medical emergency on Saturday afternoon where they found an unresponsive man.

“St. Charles County police responded to a medical emergency on Buckner Road at approximately 12:40 p.m. today (Saturday, March 18),” the police department said in a statement. “Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques. Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1:26 p.m.

“The St. Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry.”

“The family requests privacy during this time of bereavement.”

chuck-berry-b (1)MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

With a litany of hit singles such as “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “School Days,” “Nadine” and “Rock and Roll Music,” Berry is credited with reshaping rhythm and blues into what we now recognize as rock and roll. His lyrics explored teen life and American commercialism, and his music fused exciting guitar solos with flare and showmanship.

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Berry’s confluence of eclectic styles drew fans of all backgrounds, and even helped close a racial gap in music. Mixing the blues and R&B music popular with the African-American community, with the honkytonk “hillbilly” music popular with the white community, he created a new musical vocabulary with a unique crossover appeal.

”By adding blues tone to some fast country runs, and yoking them to a rhythm-and-blues beat and some unembarrassed electrification, he created an instrumental style with biracial appeal,” explained famed rock critic Robert Christgau.

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry was one of six children born to his father Henry, a contractor and deacon, and his mother, Martha, a public school principal. He was raised in a neighborhood known as The Ville, which was a mostly middle class area at the time. He was fascinated with music from an early age, and gave one of his first public performances in 1941 while still a high school student.

Berry served the first of his three infamous prison terms while still a high school student in 1944. At the age of 17, Berry and two friends decided to drive to California on a whim, carrying a broken down pistol he had found in a used car lot. The gun was useless, Berry later said, but it looked real enough to assist them in a robbery spree which included a bakery, barber shop and clothing store in Kansas City. They also used the gun to steal another car after their ride broke down in Columbia, Missouri. They were eventually arrested by a highway policeman and were held in a county jail for a month before standing trial. They were sentenced to 10 years each.

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”As Berry tells the tale, their crime spree was nothing more than adolescent high-jinks; like much of what was to happen later in his life, however, the incident was not without ambiguities,” writes Bruce Pegg, who wrote the Berry biography Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry.

“Berry’s actions were clearly dangerous and antisocial; at the same time, his legal advice (such as it was), trial and sentencing were infused with the racism one would expect of a rural Missouri court in the 1940’s,” adds Pegg. Despite his clean record, Berry was given a maximum sentence.

Berry was released at 21, and seven months later, he met Themetta “Toddy” Suggs and married her after five months of dating. Two years later, Toddy gave birth to Darlin Ingrid Berry on Oct. 3, 1950. Berry took up a series of jobs, first as a factory worker, then as a janitor and even took classes to train as a beautician. By 1950, he had saved up enough money to buy his family a home.

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At the same time, he was playing with local bands in St. Louis for an extra flow of income. Around this time, he was combining the blues music he had played since he was a teenager, while borrowing techniques and tricks from blues legend T-Bone Walker. His guitar lessons from friend Ira Harris began to shape his style with the instrument. By 1953 he was playing with Johnnie Johnson’s trio, and began incorporating the country sound that would lend to his appeal with white audiences.

”When I played hillbilly songs, I stressed my diction so that it was harder and whiter. All in all, it was my intention to hold both the black and the white clientele by voicing the different kinds of songs in their customary tongues,” Berry said, according to the New York Times.

Around this time, Berry began incorporating his famous duck walk into his act. The duck walk was an old inside joke with his family from his childhood. According to Berry, a ball he was playing with as a kid rolled under a kitchen table where his mother and her church friends were sitting. Jokingly, he crouched down, knees fully bent, and with his head and back straight, he scooted under the table to get the ball. His mother got a kick out of it, asked him to repeat the waddle again and the duck walk was born.

Chuck Berry duck walk 1.wmv

A breakout moment in Berry’s career occurred during a fateful meeting with one of his idols. By 1955, Berry had taken over his friend Johnnie Johnson’s band and was looking to score a record deal. That’s when he met Muddy Waters during a visit to Chicago. When Berry asked his idol who to see about making a record, Waters told him to look up Leonard Chess. Not long after his first meeting with Chess Records, Berry put the record “Maybellene” on wax.

Chuck Berry, the Father of Rock and Roll, Has Died at 90

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