go to content

Rock 'N' Roll Pioneer Chuck Berry Dies At 90

The legendary musician was one of the early faces of American rock 'n' roll, with classic hits like "Maybellene," "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Johnny B. Goode."

Originally posted on
Updated on

Chuck Berry, a legendary pioneer in the world of rock, died Saturday afternoon in Missouri, police said.

The legendary musician was one of the early faces of American rock 'n' roll with classic hits like "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Johnny B. Goode."

He was 90 years old, and set to release a new album.

St. Charles County Police said they were called to a home at 12:40 p.m. and found the musician unresponsive.

Officers administered lifesaving techniques but were unable to revive him, police said in a statement.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

Chuck Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry and was originally from Missouri. He performed while in high school and burst into the early rock and roll scene with "Maybellene" in 1955.

With guitar riffs and an energetic spirit on stage, Berry became one of the architects of rock 'n' roll. He sang about big Cadillacs, teenage dances, and young musicians who, like him, wanted only to have his name in lights and play guitar.

Other than Elvis Presley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame declared, perhaps no one played a more instrumental role in forming and giving shape to the genre.

"If Elvis Presley cracked open the door for rock & roll," his biography reads in the Hall of Fame, "Chuck Berry kicked it wide open."

His influence on music was literally out of this world — his iconic "Johnny B. Goode" was among the music included in the 1977 Voyager Golden Records, which were launched into space on the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

He got his start as a singer in high school, but soon after took up the guitar and joined a club band.

He soon took off on his own as a solo performer and in 1955, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, picked up steam as a star performer after asking one of his idols, Muddy Waters, for advice at a Chicago show.

That year, he recorded "Maybellene" broke into national stardom, playing alongside rock's most memorable artist.

But Berry was a black artist in a music genre popular across social and racial lines in the US. For years, he performed at segregated venues in the south, even though he was one of the most famous faces in the music scene.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Berry pointed out the changes he was able to witness in the country.

"I never thought a man with the qualities, features and all that he has [could] be our president," he said of Barack Obama. "My dad said, 'You may not live to see that day' and I believed him. Thank God that I have."

Through the years Berry continued to stay in the public spotlight for years, making appearances in movies and tribute concerts.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year, wrote his autobiography, and in the 1985 film Back to the Future, he played the role of a musician in the back of the stage as Michael J. Fox's character plays a rendition of "Johnny Be Goode."

Berry had said he had been influenced by multiple artists, but he said in the Tonight Show in 1987 that Louis Jordan was his main inspiration as an artist. He also cited other influences like Nat Cole, Bennie Goodman, Carl Hogan, and Muddy Waters.

He would go on to influence artists of his own, including the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, who referred to Berry as one of his main influences as a guitar player and songwriter.

Richards told Jimmy Kimmel on the Tonight Show he once couldn't resist touching and playing Berry's guitar during a show, after Berry had left it laid out in a dressing room.

Berry punched Richards in the face when he found him holding his guitar, Richards said, warning him that "nobody touches my guitar."

"That's one of Chuck's biggest hits," Richards said.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

After nearly 40 years, Berry announced he was set to release a new album with new songs in 2017. He made the announcement on his 90th birthday, Oct. 18.

It was to be titled simply, Chuck.

"This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy," Berry is quoted in the press release for the album, referring to his wife of 68 years. "My darlin' I'm growing old! I've worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!"

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Salvador Hernandez at salvador.hernandez@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.