Chuck Berry, the man known as the father of Rock and Roll music because of his great influence on that genre of music is an African American singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He grew up in the city of St Louis and got exposed to music through his family involvement in the choir of the Antioch Baptist Church. He also worked as a hairdresser, as a janitor, and also as a factory worker at an automobile plant while playing at small nightclubs before he finally gained stardom as a musician.
Chuck Berry’s Biography
Chuck Berry born as Charles Edward Anderson Berry on the 18th of October 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Henry William Berry was a deacon and contractor while his mother, Martha Bell Banks was a public school principal. Chuck had five siblings – three older ones and two younger ones – who he grew up with in the north of St. Louis. He attended Charles H. Sumner High School and got himself in trouble with the law as a student when he was arrested and put in jail (Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men) for armed robbery.
He formed his first singing group while in holding and they were so good that they went outside the detention facility to perform. After his time in the Reformatory, he picked up jobs as a factory worker and also as a janitor to make ends meet (and take care of his new family). He also took guitar lessons with his friend and local Jazz musician Ira Harris. He started off collaborating with pianist Johnnie Johnson and together they played blues and ballads in different places.
Berry would later travel to Chicago in 1955 in search of a record label to sign him and there he got the chance to meet the Chess brothers (Leonard and Phil Chess through Muddy Waters) who signed him onto their label – Chess Records. Chuck Berry released his single Maybellene which was an adaptation of an original song titled “Ida Red” in July 1955. The song sold over a million copies, topping on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues charts and staying on the pop chart for 11 weeks.
Following the success of the Maybellene single, Chuck Berry kept his foot on the gas as he went on to release other hit singles including Roll Over Beethoven (1956), School Day (1957), Rock and Roll Music (1958), Go, Johnny, Go! (1959). He was arrested in December 1959 on the allegations of having sex with a minor – 14-year-old waitress, Janice Escalante.
On June 1, 1979, Chuck Berry performed for the then US president Jimmy Carter, at the White House. His publicity further increased in 1987 with the publication of his book Chuck Berry: The Autobiography and release of the documentary film Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll.
He can be considered an influential figure in Rock and Roll history. Bringing creativity, innovation in the music which is evident in the music of notable musicians with the like of Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Linda Ronstadt, among other significant popular musicians who have re-recorded his songs in their own individual cover versions.
Family – Wife and Children
Chuck Berry got married to his wife Themetta Suggs widely known as “Toddy” in 1948, one year after he got out of jail in 1947. He was already married prior to his success in the music industry. Their marriage produced four children – Carlin Ingrid, Aloha Isa Lei, Charles Ji and Melody. Unlike some other celebrities whose marriages hit the rock because of their stardom or the blitz associated with their celeb status, Berry and his wife remained together until his death. They were married for more than 68 years.
Berry’s life was not void of troubles as he got crossed with laws at different points in his life. He was first arrested and jailed as a teenager while still in high school for armed robbery and car hijack. He was also convicted and jailed for transporting an underage girl across state lines for immoral purposes. He was handed a five-year jail sentence after a two-week trial which he appeal and it was upturned. But he failed to win a second appeal against his second conviction which sentenced him to a three-year jail term – which he served for one and half years between 1961 and 1963.
In 1979, he spent three months in California prison after he was convicted income tax-fraud. In 1990, the police raided his estate on a tip-off that he was selling cocaine but the charges were later dropped. He was also involved in a class-action lawsuit brought by women who claimed to have been videotaped while they undressed and also while they were in the bathroom in Berry’s mansion without their consent – the case was later settled out of court.
After being in the music business for over 60 years. With all the ups and downs he experienced, Berry died on March 18, 2017, at the age of 90 of natural causes leaving a net worth of $10 million at the time of his death. He was found unresponsive at his home in Missouri. He will be always remembered as a strong pioneer of Rock and Roll music whose influence will definitely outlive him.