Singer and multi-instrumentalist Chuck Berry’s nearly 50 year-long career ended with his death on Saturday (March 18). He was 90.
St. Charles County, Missouri’s police department posted on Facebook Saturday that first responders, called to address an unspecified “medical emergency,” could not revive the unconscious Berry. His family confirmed his death in a statement on Berry’s own Facebook page the same day, not specifying the cause of death, but mentioning that “his health had deteriorated lately.” The family said in a separate post that it would move forward with plans to release his latest album, “CHUCK,” which was announced on his 90th birthday, October 18, 2016.
As noted in his Allmusic biography and obituaries from The New York Times and other outlets, Berry was a forefather of rock n’ roll music. His overdriven electric guitar style and fast-paced songs drew a bridge between prior blues music and the new sound. He rose to global stardom, even as White artists like Elvis Presley—who covered several of Berry’s songs—became bigger names and more closely associated with rock music in subsequent years.
Berry’s public image took a few hit following some legal troubles, including a 1959 arrest and two-year jail sentence for transporting a 14-year-old across state lines. But he remained popular among rock musicians and audiences, including The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who organized a 1986 tribute concert for Berry’s 60th birthday, which was captured in the documentary, “Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N Roll!”
We recognize his decades-long legacy with these five songs and performances:
- “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” (1956), in which Berry discusses observed and fictional incidents of men of color being both criminalized and romantically pursued by White people:
- “Johnny B. Goode,” an early and much-covered hit, performed on “The T.A.M.I. Show” in 1954. Berry wrote in his 1987 memoir, “Chuck Berry: the Autobiography,” that he changed a lyric from “a little colored boy” to “a little country boy” to avoid perceptions of bias from White fans:
- “Roll Over Beethoven,” (1956), in which Berry directs a radio DJ to stop playing classical music in favor of the emergent rock tunes, performed here in 1972:
- “Rock ‘N Roll,” performed in 1982 with Tina Turner:
- A clip from the documentary mentioned above, in which a visibly frustrated Berry struggles to teach Richards the lead riff to ”Oh Carol:”
Share your favorite Chuck Berry memories in the comments.