Chuck Berry (Charles Edward Anderson Berry) was born on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis. Widely acknowledged as one of the founding architects of Rock & Roll, the singer, songwriter and guitarist has had a major impact on American and world culture. Dozens of phrases from his lyrics have found their way into the lexicon—“any old way you choose it,” “play the guitar like ringing a bell,” “Drop the coin right into the slot, you’ve gotta hear somethin’ that’s really hot,” among many more examples. His hit recordings of his own classic songs—including “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Memphis,” “Back in the USA,” “Sweet Little Sixteen” and dozens more – have been covered countless times and have inspired songwriters and guitarists for generations.
As a very young man, Berry spent some time in a reformatory and then trained as a beautician. Already married and a father by 1950, he soon began supplementing his income by playing dates around St. Louis with local groups, heavily influenced in his guitar-playing by T-Bone Walker. Berry’s long collaboration with pianist Johnnie Johnson began in 1953, a turning point in his career when he began adapting Country material for audiences expecting R&B. Berry and band became a major St. Louis club attraction. He became a national phenomenon in 1955 after being signed to Chess Records and releasing “Maybelline,” which topped the Pop, R&B, and Country & Western charts. It was the beginning of a storied recording and songwriting career that would include dozens of bona fide Rock & Roll classics, including “Johnny B. Goode,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Memphis,” “School Days” and “No Particular Place to Go.” Chuck Berry songs would become major hits for artists like the Beatles, Johnny Rivers, the Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt. Other notable Berry covers have been recorded by artists in every genre, including Count Basie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Peter Tosh, The Grateful Dead, the Stray Cats, Emmylou Harris, the Kinks, Conway Twitty, Wyclef Jean, the Band, Elvis Presley, Bob Seger and the Ramones, among many others.
Although Chuck Berry’s last major hit as an artist was the novelty, “My Ding-a-Ling,” in 1975, his influence remains powerful. In addition to his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Chuck Berry was in the first group of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and has received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Kennedy Center Honor. On Berry’s 90th birthday, it was announced that his first new studio album since 1979 would be released in 2017.