Chuck Berry, singer and songwriter of rock and roll classics such as “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode” has died. He was 90.
St. Charles County police in Missouri responded to a 911 call Saturday afternoon, where first responders found an unresponsive Berry. They immediately began lifesaving procedures, but he was pronounced dead less than an hour later.
They posted the news of Berry’s death on their Facebook page.
Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry, Sr. in St. Louis, Missouri, the fourth child of six. He showed an interest in music at an early age, making his first public performance in 1941 while still in high school.
He noted in his memoir, “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography,” that around that same time he was arrested for and convicted of armed robbery, having stolen a car at gunpoint with friends. He was sent to a reformatory in nearby Jefferson City, where he formed a singing group that was allowed to perform outside the detention facility.
At 22, he married Toddy Suggs and had a baby girl, Darlin Ingrid. To support his family, Berry took any job he could get — from automobile factory worker to janitor and even trained as a beautician. By the early 1950s, Berry was earning extra money playing blues and country music with various bands in the St. Louis area.
He eventually landed in Chicago, where he connected with Chess Records and recorded his first hit, “Maybellene.” That song sold over a million copies and reached number one on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1955. His next hit, “Roll Over Beethoven,” followed within a year.
By 1957, Berry was touring the country with other popular musicians of the time, like the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, and the hits continued to flow out. There was “School Days,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Johnny B. Goode” and appearances in early rock ‘n’ roll movies “Rock Rock Rock” and “Go, Johnny, Go!”
While his career was in high gear, his personal life took a dark turn in 1959, when he was accused of having intercourse with a 14-year-old Apache waitress and was arrested, then convicted, under the Mann Act.
After serving time in prison for the crime, Berry returned to recording in 1963, when the emergence of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys set the musical tone of the nation. Berry found commercial success with “No Particular Place to Go,” “Never Can Tell” and “Nadine,” and he continued to take his music on the road for the decades that followed.
His natural, unmistakable showmanship and unique talent made him one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame upon its 1986 opening.