Chuck Berry dead at 90; musician was a pioneer of rock and roll

March 18, 2017

by Carla Hay

Chuck Berry in the 1987 movie "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"
Chuck Berry in the 1987 movie “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Chuck Berry, one of the most influential pioneers of rock music, died on March 18, 2017, at his home in a suburb of St. Louis. He was 90.  According to the Associated Press: “Emergency responders summoned to Berry’s residence by his caretaker about 12:40 p.m. found him unresponsive, police in Missouri’s St. Charles County said in a statement. Attempts to revive Berry failed, and he was pronounced dead shortly before 1:30 p.m., police said.”

Born in St. Louis on October 18, 1926, Berry influenced countless people, including numerous musicians who would later go on to be influential musical superstars themselves, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Berry, who was renowned for his guitar playing, shot to fame in 1955 with his recording of “Maybellene.” Other iconic hits followed, including “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” ”School Day,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” ”Nadine” and ”No Particular Place To Go.” His last big hit was 1972’s “My Ding-a-Ling,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Berry, whose “duck walk” during performances became his signature stage move, appeared in several movies. The most famous was the documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll,” which chronicled two all-star concerts in St. Louis celebrating Berry’s 60th birthday  in 1986. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was the chief organizer of the concerts, which also featured Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Julian Lennon. Richards was also one of the producers of “Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll,” which was directed by Taylor Hackford and released in 1987.

During his life, Berry also got into trouble with the law, having been arrested for armed robbery in 1944, transporting a minor across state lines for sexual intercourse in 1959, and tax evasion in 1979, and marijuana possession in 1990.  He was incarcerated for all of the convictions, except for the last one, when he pled guilty and received a suspended sentence and two years of probation. In 1990, he was also sued by several women who claimed that he had secretly videotaped them in a ladies’ bathroom without their permission. The case was settled out of court in 1994. Berry also had several legal battles over royalties and copyrights for his music, since he claimed he was cheated out of millions of dollars over these issues.

As many legal problems that he had throughout his life, Berry also many more accolades, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and being among the first group of people inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His legacy and influence will be felt for generations to come.


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