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He was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, Biography.com reports. The great-grandson of enslaved people, Berry’s parents, Martha and Henry Berry, were among a slew of African-Americans who migrated north after World War I. The family grew up in north St. Louis in a segregated middle-class Black community called the Ville, Henry working as a deacon and carpenter while Martha became one of few Black women during that time to receive a college education. Segregation being the norm of the time, Berry once reflected that he had never even seen a white person until he was about three years old when some firemen came to the neighborhood to put out a fire. 

“I thought they were so frightened that their faces were whitened from fear of going near the big fire. Daddy told me they were white people, and their skin was always white that way, day or night,” Berry once explained. 

The fourth of six children, he grew up with the luxury of seeing thriving Black-owned businesses all around him, taking his pick of hobbies as a child. He showed an interest in music at a young age, singing in the church choir when he was only six years old while also dabbling in carpentry and photography. He went on to attend Sumner High School, the first all-Black high school in the region, where a school talent show sparked Berry’s interest in guitar. Soon after, he began taking guitar lessons with a local jazz legend by the name of Ira Harris. 

Despite his array of talents, Berry still found himself struggling in school, dropping out in 1944 at the age of 17 along with two of his friends to set off on a road trip to California. In Kansas City, the group ran into trouble, finding an abandoned pistol that they used to rob several stores, including a barbershop, bakery, and clothing store. They were eventually arrested by highway patrol officers and, despite them being minors encountering their very first offense, they all received 10 years in jail, the maximum penalty for their crimes. Berry served three of his ten years and was released on good behavior on October 18, 1947, his 21st birthday. 

He returned to St. Louis to rebuild his life, working with his father and doing photography and other odd jobs. In 1948, he married Themetta “Toddy” Suggs, and the couple had four children. Berry also got back into learning guitar, joining his high school friend’s band in 1951; he played at local Black nightclubs and made a name for himself as a result of his impressive performances. He bounced around from band to band before embarking on a road trip to Chicago in the mid-1950s in search of a record deal. In 1955, he met iconic blues musician Muddy Waters who suggested a meeting with Chess Records. Berry immediately got in the studio, recording a song called “Maybellene” that he took to Chess execs. They offered him a contract on the spot and a few months later, “Maybellene” was No. 1 on the R&B Charts and No. 5 on the pop charts.

Here’s why Chuck Berry is considered the Father of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Photo Courtesy of ChuckBerry.com

That song later became known as the first true rock ‘n’ roll song, Berry perfecting his craft with a host of other singles right after that. Songs like “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” and “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” were hits among listeners. Not only did Berry’s unique mix of rhythm and blues with country guitar licks birth the new genre known as rock ‘n’ roll, but it also appealed to both Black and white young people. Berry’s storytelling captured the essence of his youth and continued to resonate with audiences. By the late 1950s, his songs “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Carol,” all hit the Top 10 pop charts, the music becoming a great unifier among races.

“I made records for people who would buy them. No color, no ethnic, no political – I don’t want that, never did,” Berry previously shared. 

In 1961 he found himself incarcerated again, this time for transporting a 14-year-old from Mexico to St. Louis to work as a waitress in his club. He ended up serving 20 months in jail; when he was released in 1963, he continued his run, putting out popular hits that included “Nadine,” “You Can Never Tell,” “Promised Land,” and “Dear Dad.” Despite his musical popularity, Carl Perkins, a close friend and business partner, said Berry was never quite the same after his last stint in jail. 

“Never saw a man so changed. He had been an easygoing guy before, the kinda guy who’d jam in dressing rooms, sit and swap licks and jokes. In England, he was cold, real distant and bitter. It wasn’t just jail, it was those years of one-nighters, grinding it out like that can kill a man, but I figure it was mostly jail,” said Perkins. 

Still, Berry rose to fame and became one of the most influential artists of his time, shaping an entire sound and genre that would serve as the blueprint for years to come. He rightfully earned the title “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and he wore it proudly. He released one of his last original music albums in 1979, continuing to perform well into the 1990s. In 1985, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1986, he made history as the first person to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many notable artists have credited Berry with influencing them, including The Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, each group covering Berry’s songs. While introducing Berry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone’s guitarist, Keith Richards, made sure to give Berry his flowers. 

“It’s very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry ‘cause I’ve lifted every lick he ever played. This is the man that started it all!,” said Richards. 

On his 90th birthday, Berry announced his plans to release his very last album, dedicated to his wife of 68 years, Toddy. 

“This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy. My darlin’, I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!,” Berry said via statement. 

 Here’s why Chuck Berry is considered the Father of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Photo Courtesy of ChuckBerry.com

The rock ‘n’ roll icon passed away on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. Since his passing, he has continued to inspire generations; he’s been featured in an Amazon Prime commercial and in a riveting PBS documentary starring his family who credits Berry for their success as well, ChuckBerry.com reports. On what would’ve been the legend’s 95th birthday, Dualtone Records released Live From Blueberry Hill, a performance documentary of Berry’s shows in his hometown at St. Louis’ Blueberry Hill. The performances were all recorded between July 2005 and January 2006, with Berry performing most in St. Louis during his later years in life, something he petitioned Blueberry Hill restaurant owner Joe Edwards to do. 

“You know, Joe, I’d like to play a place the size of the ones I played when I first started out,” he told Edwards. 

Over the course of 17 years, Berry gave 209 performances, the shows at Blueberry Hill becoming a rock ‘n’ roll bucket list item for fans from all over. 

“Chuck Berry’s accomplishments hardly need elaboration: He was the first member inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Kennedy Center Honor. John Lennon declared that Berry’s name was synonymous with rock and roll itself, while Bob Dylan called Berry the “Shakespeare of rock and roll,” a statement on the website reads. 

And that’s why Chuck Berry is considered the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Because of him, we can!

Here’s why Chuck Berry is considered the Father of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Photo Courtesy of ChuckBerry.com

This content was originally published here.

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