The New York Times said it perfectly: “While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves.”
Indeed, Chuck Berry was nothing short of a musical genius. Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis, the man who would become the pioneer of rock ’n’ roll grew up in a segregated neighborhood. His unique situation provided him an opportunity to create a musical style from two apparently polarized genres: gospel and blues, mixed with a bit of country flair. Being born to a middle-class family allowed him to pursue his passion for music at an early age, but his rebellious streak got the better of him, and was arrested for armed car theft in 1944.
Though incarcerated, Berry never diminished his skills as a musician, and eventually formed a singing quartet in prison. The quartet soon became popular and competent enough that authorities had allowed it to perform outside the detention facility, and had helped in honing Berry’s skills both as a band leader and as a stage performer. When he was released from detention in 1947, he quickly took up performing at various clubs, as well as pursuing guitar lessons to further bolster his career.
Eventually, he arrived at an impasse: the music he knew best were blues and ballads, but audiences everywhere wanted country. This dilemma forced him to combine the two together, creating the iconic sound that would one day become the very foundation that rock ’n’ roll would be built upon. Until now, his fans—young and old—are trying to emulate the style that he popularized, with many musicians taking inspiration from his unique musicality, copying his “legendary guitar chops.”
His most popular singles “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” remain to be jukebox classics, never diminishing in quality, and has stood the test of time. However, perhaps his most wondrous achievement would always be this: Chuck Berry holds the prestige of being the only recording artist to have his song, “Johnny B. Goode,” launched on 1977’s Voyager I and II spacecrafts, on a tour to the stars, in the hopes of it being discovered by an intelligent race one day.
Watch the obituary that The New York Times made in his honor here:
Were you a fan of Chuck Berry’s iconic music? Share your favorite song down in the comments below, or tweet them to me via @rafael_reynante!
Raf rarely gets bored. However, when he does get bored, he works out his mind by dissecting the hidden and subtle meanings of songs. He enjoys philosophizing on pop songs, traveling the Metro in his hatchback, exercising constantly, and collecting leather bags.