Chuck Berry had a long career as a pioneering rock 'n' roll musician that influenced rock 'n' roll's future. His showmanship and guitar solos impressed the audience, leading to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. His hit, “Johnny B. Goode,” was put on a golden record with other recordings and launched into space on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.
Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in Missouri on October 18, 1926, Chuck Berry was an outstanding American guitarist, singer, and songwriter. His work shaped rhythm and blues into the new genre of rock 'n' roll.
As a wayward teenager, he was convicted of armed robbery and spent three years in a Missouri prison. During this incarceration, he formed a singing quartet that performed until his release at twenty-one.
A year later, Berry married Themetta “Toddy” Suggs with a child. He took odd jobs in St. Louis to support his family--from automobile factory worker to janitor to beautician. The family lived in a small house, now a historic place on the National Register.
Berry performed locally in his free time. In search of a recording contract, he traveled to Chicago on a road trip. He met Muddy Waters, who referred him to Chess Records. His version of an old country song named “Ida Red” impressed co-founder Leonard Chess, who signed him. Berry named his song “Maybellene,” and it was a runaway success, selling over one million copies and topping the R&B Billboard chart in 1955. In ‘56, he toured with another smash named “Roll Over Beethoven.” In ‘57, he toured with Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. More than a dozen hit singles followed, including “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Johnny B. Goode.” He acted in films and played himself in Go, Johnny, Go!
In 1959, he was arrested for violating the Mann Act that prohibits human trafficking, and he was sentenced to three years in prison. After his release, he published five albums and toured the U.K. The Beach Boys’ hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.” was released in 1963, peaking at number three. The song borrowed the melody of Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.” He saw chart-topping success in '72, with his light-hearted single, “My Ding-A-Ling.”
In the 1990s, he was sued by various women for having a video camera in the bathroom of his restaurant. The settlement cost him over one million dollars. Later, he served six months for marijuana possession. In 2000, his former pianist, Johnnie Johnson, sued him claiming he co-wrote many of Berry's songs, but the case was dismissed.
When asked about his meteoric rise, he replied, “Well, actually they begin to listen to it, you see, because certain stations played certain music. The music that we, the blacks, played, the cultures were so far apart, we would have to have a play station in order to play it. The cultures begin to come together, and you begin to see one another's vein of life, then the music came together.”