Chuck Berry

Snippet 1: Chuck Berry's Music Bridged the Gap Between the Races

"If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." — John Lennon

Famed rock and roller, Charles Edward Anderson Berry, a.k.a. Chuck Berry, was born October 18, 1926, in St. Louis. His mother was a teacher, his father a contractor and church deacon. His musical parents, however, were the silky-voiced pop crooner Nat King Cole (father of Natalie) and blues legend Muddy Waters. As a kid, Berry played in school musical performances and grew to like the thunderous applause he got from enthusiastic audiences. Although he started to play small music clubs early in his career, Berry's dream of becoming a famous musician got off to a slow start. He was pushing thirty when his big break came in 1955. While on a road trip to Chicago, Berry went to see his idol Muddy Waters perform. Somehow he managed to snag Waters's attention long enough to ask how he too could get a record deal. Waters sent him to the legendary Leonard Chess of Chess records, the company that was already producing rhyhm and blues greats like Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley. Chess listened to Berry's tapes and gave him a contract. By the summer of the same year, Chuck Berry's song "Maybelline" was topping the charts. Berry was on his way to becoming the "King of Rock and Roll" and the first musician to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Although Berry realized early on that music was going to be his life, he probably didn't realize the effect his music was going to have on the society in which he lived. Thanks to its extraordinary popularity with American teenagers, Berry's music bridged the gap between the races and helped tear down the walls that had kept them separated. The teenagers, black and white, who came to hear Berry weren't just listening to his music. They were dancing to it. More importantly, they were dancing together. Berry's songs like "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybelline," "School Days," and "Memphis" became anthems for America's newly-born consumer class—teenagers with money to spend. Entranced by his music, those teenagers, regardless of color, were discovering their common passion—the music of Chuck Berry.

Snippet 2: Berry Knew What He Was Doing

The following passage comes from a terrific Honors Essay posted on the Web. The entire essay is worth reading. However, I found this paragraph particularly intriguing because I always thought Berry's effect on segregation had been unplanned, that it just happened. But clearly Berry decided early on to make a difference.

"Club Bandstand was Berry's greatest challenge to the segregation he had dealt with in his career. Originally designated as a headquarters for his fan club, the club soon began holding dances in March of 1958, providing a spot for black and white teenagers to feel safe dancing together. As Berry remembers from his performances in the early 1950's, a black and white couple pulled over by the Missouri state police had to go down to the station to get a "mandatory shot for venereal disease." (Berry, 90) Berry's club was also a venue for himself and local performers to play. The club grew in popularity and the teenagers had to be moved next door when it applied for a liquor license. The fan club remained a setting for black and white teens to have fun without being harassed, while Club Bandstand provided one of the few biracial businesses in the state. The successful bar was staffed only by Berry and his secretary Francine Prager. But local authorities did not appreciate Club Bandstand's unique atmosphere. Francine was often stopped and questioned on her way to work. She was a white woman in a black neighborhood, and the police knew that she worked for Chuck Berry (who they were not fond of either). As Berry became involved in other legal troubles and Francine continued to be harassed by the police, managing the club became too much. Berry closed down the club early in 1960; his time and money dedicated to Berry Park from then on."

Snippet 3: Chuck Berry Making Music, Or Long Live Rock and Roll

Berry's signature "duck walk" comes at the end. But it is worth the wait, as is the brief glimpse of a hero-worshipping Keith Richards.

Last change made to this page: May 31, 2011