There able to attend the first private all-black high

There have been so musicians who
have left their marks on American music. All of these musicians have their own
background and stories, some more unique than others. Chuck Berry, considered
by some as “the father of Rock & Roll” has an especially unique story. Unlike
many other famous musicians who came from extremely poor families, Berry, born
in St. Louis, Missouri, was fortunate enough to be born into a middle-class
African American family. His mother, Martha, was one of the only African
American women at the time to have a college education and Chuck himself was
able to attend the first private all-black high school in the area. Berry’s
Rock & Roll was different than other forms of music in that it really only
took off in St. Louis whereas others forms of music, such as Swing, took off in
several cities.

was exposed to music early in his life.  As a young boy, he would listen
to his parents perform in the church choir. He even had a piano in his home. At
6 years old he joined the church choir himself, but it wasn’t until high school
that he really began to realize his musical talents. At the school talent show,
his performance received enormous applause. As his interest in music grew, he
started to take guitar lessons with Ira Harris, a famous jazz musician. Things
took an unexpected turn though in the middle of high school as Berry was
arrested for armed robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Surprisingly,
this terrible incident only came to help further help his career. In jail, he
formed a singing group that became so good that they were allowed to perform
outside the detention facility.

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            After Berry was released from jail,
a former classmate of his invited him to join his band. Playing at nightclubs,
Berry quickly became a hit. Berry was able to break through with Rock &
Roll, a form of music that helped break down some of the racial barriers in

for the influences in his home, Berry also drew influences from many other
areas such as Swing Era greats Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.  At a time
when American music only boasted three categories, Berry, “The St. Louis
native, internalized country, blues and R&B influences to create a singular
guitar technique. His first big hit, “Maybellene” sounded like
nothing else in music at the time, and immediately placed Berry as the founder
of new music style, where blues, country and R&B came together in urgent.” 1

like the Swing Era paved the way for the racial barriers to come down in the
1940’s, Berry’s music did the same in the 1950’s. He knew what each race wanted
to hear. “The charismatic Berry came into
his own with this combo—especially after he started incorporating more country
riffs into his already eclectic performance style, a move which helped the
troupe attract an increasingly integrated audience.” 2 This unique ability to play music that
was desired by both whites and blacks is what made him one of the most popular
in the area.

            Other major influences on Berry were
T-Bone Walker and Berry’s idol, Muddy Waters. Berry learned Walker’s style of
playing the electric guitar and just made it into a different beat. “From the Texas
guitarist T-Bone Walker,
Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would
rough up and turn into a rock ‘n’ roll talisman.” 3Berry
said, “All the things people see me do on the stage I got from T-Bone
Walker.” 4
With the help of Muddy Waters, Berry was able to reach the next level. He put
Berry in touch with Chess Records, who recognized Berry’s potential, signed him
and produced the song Maybellene which sold more than a million copies.

Berry was also a major influence on others. The rise of Rock & Roll music
was quickly embraced by his culture. His music was especially influential on
teenagers as he wasn’t just a singer, but to them he was also an entertainer.
His songs focused on the lives of teenagers. That ultimately helped spark a
change in how teenage kids spent their time. Before Berry’s music became
popular, most teenagers in America were getting jobs to support their family,
but after the war when economic times were much better, teens had a lot more
free time. What made Berry’s music so popular amongst teenagers was that he was
able to connect to them. He connected to them through his similarities in his upbringing
which was very similar to that of his fans. “Berry was a city kid from St.
Louis, not rooted in the rural past as were the country blues artists at
Chess.” 5 Berry’s arrest at the age
of 17 kept the teenager inside Berry even in the years following his release
which allowed him to write music that would connect with a younger crowd. He
felt that his years as a teenager were taken from him when he was in jail so he
re-lived those years through his music. This really helped him connect with a
much younger audience.

the 1950’s, Berry’s influence helped spark Jonnie Johnson’s band, by
introducing country styles to what was mainly a jazz band. More famously,
members of the Beatles paid homage to Berry and pointed to him as a major
influencer on their music. In fact, some of their songs, such as “Back in the
U.S.S.R” were offshoots of Berry’s songs. The co-founders of the Beatles, John
Lennon and Paul McCartney both attributed a lot of their work to Berry. Lennon
said, “If you tried to give Rock &
Roll another name, you might call it “Chuck Berry.” 6 Paul McCartney admitted to
“using the same bass lines from one of Berry’s songs and called Berry one of
the greatest poets America has ever produced.” 7″But if Berry took liberally and
wisely from the musical traditions of different American cultures, he also paid
it forward by bringing his astounding new sound across the Atlantic.” 8 Berry’s influence spread not just
in America, but to other countries as well. It wasn’t just Berry’s instrument
styles that were imitated, but later musicians such as Prince, Keith Richards
and Michael Jackson also mimicked his on-stage dances moves such as his famous

influence wasn’t only on musicians. His personal life influenced a lot of
people as well. Berry was considered a civil rights icon as he broke down
social barriers and was referred to as “the first black artist to become as
popular with white audiences as black audiences” at Congressman William Clay’s
funeral. Also, Berry’s early struggles such as his multiple times in jail
influenced people that they should also fight through the troubles and never
give up. Berry’s second trip to jail seemed like it was going to put an end to
his legal troubles. At a time when Jim Crow laws and segregation were all over
the country and whites were trying to send a message to Berry that blacks were
not going to be influential in America, he never quit. Even again in 1976 when
Berry was jailed a third time, he still returned to the music scene. He never
stopped performing and was successful in playing on tour until he hit his 80’s.

Berry is a major influence on American music. His trail blazing efforts helped
bring down racial barriers even at a time when segregation had a major
influence on the country. He
is considered to be the founder of Rock & Roll and continues to have
influence on modern Rock & Roll as “He
paved the way for such music legends as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Band, Jimi
Hendrix, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Sex
Pistols and Jerry Lee Lewis, among many others.” 9 He became so popular that
he performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter. His major
accomplishments include being named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and
being listed at No. 6 on Rolling
Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of
All Time.” He is also famous for his trademarked stage dance called the “duck
walk.” Even late in his life, musicians were still obsessing over Berry. “At Berry’s 80th birthday show,
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry showed up and hopped onstage to jam with his
idol. It’s a testament to Berry’s influence—and the respect he has
commanded—that one of his most famous disciples made it a point to commemorate
the milestone.”10

            Although Chuck Berry died a couple
of months ago, he continues to have a major influence on American music.
Without Berry, we may have never had the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or many
others famous musicians. Thanks to Chuck Berry and his creation of Rock &
Roll, America and the rest of the world was given another incredible style of
music to enjoy.














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