Remembering Chuck Berry

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was saddened to learn of the passing of 1986 inductee Chuck Berry today. He was 90 years old.

Chuck Berry, the astonishingly gifted singer-guitarist-composer, has almost single-handedly fashioned rock-and-roll through his highly individualized and pace-setting songs. With their strongly surging rhythms, infectious melodies and appealing lyrics, his songs were as widely imitated then as they still are today.

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry received his impetus toward music from his parents. In addition to singing bass in a local glee club, he began studying guitar, and shortly afterward formed the Chuck Berry Combo. It was during this time that he developed his own unique style and began perfecting the dazzling showmanship that became synonymous with his name. While vacationing in Chicago in 1955, Berry was introduced to the President of Chess Records, and subsequently recorded “Maybellene,” which within weeks became one of the most popular records ever made. It was one of the first to win a triple crown on Billboard’s charts: No. 1 in rhythm-and-blues, Country-and-western and pop.

Such hits as “Johnny B. Goode,” “No Money Down,” “Back in the USA,” “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and “Sweet Little Sixteen” firmly established Chuck Berry as influential in defining the new musical style that grew out of the postwar rhythm-and-blues era. Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986; he was cited for having “laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance.” Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine’s “greatest of all time” lists and he was ranked fifth on its 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.