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On The Shoulders Of Giants: Chuck Berry

On October 18th, 1926, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to parents Martha and Henry Berry. He was influenced by music at an early age then began playing instruments in church and school. While attending Sumner High School he performed in the school’s talent show and amazed the audience. Shortly after the performance, he began learning to play the guitar from Ira Harris, a St. Louis Jazz legend. Harris also taught Berry the basic fundamentals of becoming a great entertainer.  As a teen, Berry was often in legal troubles. Once he and some friends dropped out of school and were arrested for robbery. Berry spent the next three years in a boy’s reform school in Jefferson, Missouri, and was released on his 21st birthday. He needed to make a living so he began working in construction, photography, cosmetology, and on the assembly line at the General Motors Fisher body plant. In 1951, Berry began playing in a band with former high school classmates. Performing with the band was helping Berry to become a household name.

In 1952, Berry joined a band called the St. Johns Trio that allowed him to incorporate his upbeat brand of country music with pop and jazz. The band was such a hit that they began attracting white people to their shows in a predominantly black community. Berry’s reputation as a showman was growing and his band was becoming well known. He was also now capable of making music full time. He traveled to Chicago, Illinois in 1955 where he met Muddy Waters who arranged a meeting between Berry and the executives of Chess Records. In the meeting, Berry played his song “Ida Red” for the executives and they immediately fell in love with his music. The record label renamed the song “Maybellene” which became Berry’s first top ten hit and the birth of Rock & Roll. During the late 1950’s, Berry produced many more top ten hits such as “School Day”, “Rock & Roll Music”, and “Sweet Little Sixteen”. During performances he would dazzle the crowd with his famous duck walk. He was also recognized for creating music that transcended music genres, race, and culture.

Berry opened his own nightclub in downtown St. Louis called Club Bandstand in 1958. The next year, he met a young Native American waitress in Mexico. Berry brought the girl back to St. Louis to work in his club. Little did he know, the girl was 14 years old and sometimes worked as a prostitute. Berry fired the girl after only working for a few weeks. She was later arrested for prostitution and Berry was charged in connection with her being a prostitute. In 1961, he was convicted and served 20 months in prison in the state of Indiana. He was released from prison in 1964 to learn that bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were playing his Rock and Roll music. Berry did not let the new competition stop his shine. He went on to record such hits as “Nadine”, “No Particular Place to Go”, and “My Ding-A-Ling”. Â

In 1979, Berry released his last album, Rock It, which received fair reviews from the music world, but he was able to continue performing through the 1990’s. In 1985, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy’s. In 1986, Berry was the first musician to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was literally one of the most influential American musicians of all-time. Berry was able to infuse country music, jazz, and pop music to create a new genre of music. Rock & Roll music is often thought of as music created by and for white America. This notion can’t be further from the truth. Chuck Berry like many other black musicians used their God given talent to express what was in their hearts. He did not set out to create a new genre of music but his destiny was fulfilled. Though he is often overlooked and forgotten when we think of Rock & Roll, just know that neither The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, nor Rock& Roll itself would not exist if it were not for the genius of Chuck Berry. Mr. Charles Edward Anderson Berry, we proudly stand on your shoulders.

– J.A. Ward.

 

Joseph Ward is the founder of Live Skilled Live Fulfilled, a life skills training and sexual and domestic violence Prevention Company. Mr. Ward has dedicated himself to studying the history and the culture of the African diaspora. His studies have led to founding On the Shoulders of Giants, Inc., authoring On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 1 North America, and On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 2 Central America. Mr. Ward is the host of The Fix Sports Podcast, co-host The Freedom Train Podcast Series, and co-founder of the Freedom Train Network.

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References:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/chuck-berry/biography

http://www.biography.com/people/chuck-berry-9210488#synopsis

http://chuckberry.com/biography/

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