On Saturday, rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry was found unconscious and unresponsive in his home, and was later pronounced dead at 90; now the world is remembering his legendary hits, as it collectively mourns the loss of a music icon. As AL.com reports, Berry was found in the bathroom of his Missouri home by emergency personnel responding to a medical emergency call at the residence. EMTs attempted to revive the legendary musician, but he was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m. local time.
RIP to a truly legendary artist, Chuck Berry, without whom none of us would be rockin' today. pic.twitter.com/JrcNweMr9C
— Amoeba Music (@amoebamusic) March 18, 2017
As news of legendary Chuck Berry’s death hits home, fans and stars across the globe are remembering his remarkable career. Berry began his musical career before many of his current fans were born, or even thought of, back in the 1950s. One of his most iconic hits was “Johnny B. Goode,” which was incorporated into the wildly successful Back to the Future film. In the movie, Michael J. Fox channeled his inner Chuck Berry, performing the song before its time, and (according to the film) inspiring the legendary Chuck Berry to write and record it himself through the annals of time travel.
Check out the legendary and iconic original Chuck Berry version of the hit song.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest rock and artists of all time, the legendary Chuck Berry performed a variety of hits, guaranteed to appeal to the youth of his generation. More than just a singer, Berry was known for his showmanship and artistry on the guitar, and he wasn’t shy when it came to getting into his performances. Not to mention his iconic, incompatible voice and his trademark passion of integrating R&B with rock and roll.
While many are most familiar with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” the legendary musician was far from a “one-hit wonder.” In the 1950s alone, he also introduced several other songs that would go on to be classic, timeless hits. One of those songs was “Maybellene,” seen in the live Chuck Berry performance below.
Chuck Berry was also the mind and talent behind “Roll Over Beethoven,” a song in which he gives a serious nod to “rhythm and blues.” Known as one of the “500 Greatest Songs of all Time,” check out a youthful Chuck Berry’s live performance of the hit below.
As Rolling Stone reports, Chuck Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926. The teen who would go on to be one of the most legendary musicians in American history would get his musical start at a high school talent show after learning to play blues guitar. He first formed a band in 1952, just a couple of short years before he became a breakout hit.
When I was 10 years old and I dreamed every night of moving to America, Chuck Berry played the soundtrack. He rocked the world. RIP.
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) March 18, 2017
"If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry." – John Lennon
RIP to a legendary musician.
— InxsySparxs (@InxsyS) March 18, 2017
Chuck Berry invented one of the greatest art forms of the 20th century, rock and roll. RIP to the Brown Eyed Handsome Man.
— Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom) March 18, 2017
RIP Chuck Berry a man who literally changed modern music. Chuck Berry is what created the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys inspired The Beatles.
— Moe Rock (@MoeRockOnline) March 18, 2017
His first song, submitted to Chess Records founder Leonard Chess after meeting Muddy Waters (legend of the blues world), was called “Ida Red.” After some extensive rewriting, it would go on to secure Chuck Berry’s contract with his record label and become his legendary “Maybellene,” Berry’s iconic first hit. Chuck Berry himself later wrote that Chess couldn’t believe that music came from “a black guy.”
“[Chess] couldn’t believe that a country tune (he called it a ‘hillbilly song’) could be written and sung by a black guy.”
Despite being his first single, “Maybellene” would rise to No. 5 on the charts by 1955; before the decade was through, the legendary Chuck Berry would go on to have seven more top 40 hits: “Roll Over Beethoven” (No. 29), “School Days” (No. 3), “Rock & Roll Music” (No. 8), “Sweet Little Sixteen” (No. 2), “Johnny B. Goode” (No. 8), “Carol” (No. 28), and “Back in the U.S.A.” (No. 37).
While Chuck Berry was already over 30 when he recorded some of the biggest songs of his legendary career, he deliberately targeted a teenage audience with his music. And the reason was incredibly calculated in order to improve his career and feed his fame.
“Whatever would sell was what I thought I should concentrate on, so from ‘Maybellene’ on, I mainly improvised my lyrics toward the young adult and some even for the teeny boppers, as as they called the tots then.”
Despite intentionally creating songs with a certain feel and marketing them toward the youth of his day, Chuck Berry set the tone for rock and roll for decades to come, even to this day. According to those close to him, one of Berry’s most legendary dance moves, “the duck walk,” was invented to hide the wrinkles in his one and only suit. Even so, it helped form the foundation of American rock and roll. And it did so effortlessly.
“None of this sweating and grinding away or grimacing, just pure, effortless swing like a lion.”
RIP Chuck Berry. He invented the way rock sounds. And it's vocabulary too… Too important to contain in 140 words. pic.twitter.com/pPW5mSpsG6
— Danny Kelly (@dannykellywords) March 18, 2017
In the midst of his beloved career, Chuck Berry’s legal troubles also reflected his persona as a rock and roll “bad boy.” He did time in reform school as a youth for attempted armed robbery, was indicted for tax evasion and false tax returns in 1979 (resulting in three months in jail), and, 1990, sued for illegally videotaping women in his restaurant’s restroom. Chuck Berry would later go on to settle that particular lawsuit out of court.
Throughout it all, the legendary rocker Chuck Berry would continue to record music. In 1966, Berry left Chess records for Mercury because of dismally-performing follow-up records. His only No. 1 hit was a novelty number in 1972, “My Ding-a-Ling,” recorded after returning to his original record label, Chess. The legendary Chuck Berry would release his last album of original songs, Rock It, in 1979.
In 2012, Chuck Berry was honored with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters Award. He was 86-years-old at the time, and recited a piece of original poetry at the event.
“Well, I’ll give you a little piece of poetry. Give you a song? I can’t do that. My singing days have passed. My voice is gone. My throat is worn. And my lungs are going fast. I think that explains it.”
Despite his poem, Berry would go on to perform at small venues (clubs and casinos) until 2014. At the time of his death, he lived in St. Louis, Missouri.
It is still unknown what killed Berry, although he did recently struggle with pneumonia; his family is asking for privacy in their grief.
At the time of his death, the singer boasted one of the longest-running marriages in music history. Chuck Berry is survived by his four children and wife Themetta “Toddy” Suggs, to whom he was married in 1948.
[Featured Image by RTBusacca/MediaPunch/IPX/AP Images]