Chuck Berry

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Berry, Chuck

(Charles Edward Anderson Berry), 1926–2017, American rock music guitarist, singer, and songwriter, b. San Jose, Calif. Berry is widely regarded as one of the leading pioneers of rock music, having blended the blues with country music and added a rhythm-and-blues beat, and he is thought by many to be the inventor of the rock music form. His distinctive playing of the electric guitar that featured his famous double-string plucking and his witty, precisely articulated lyrics were a major inspiration for the English pop renaissance and for a wide variety of other rock musicians. A dynamic performer, he also became known for his signature crouching and gliding "duck walk." Berry produced a string of hits in the late 1950s, many of which defined and glorified contemporary teenage life. They included "Maybellene," "Rock and Roll Music," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Johnny B. Goode," and "Sweet Little Sixteen." His first run-in with the law had occurred in 1944, and in 1962 he was sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes; legal problems continued to plague him. His creative output dwindled and he cut his penultimate record in 1979. He continued to be an active and popular performer into the 21st cent, and in 2016 announced a forthcoming album, Chuck. Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.


See his autobiography (1987); biographies by K. Reese (1983), B. Pegg (2002), and J. Collis (2003); study by H. A. DeWitt (1985); T. Hackford, dir., Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, (film documentary, 1987).

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Berry, (Charles Edward Anderson) Chuck

(1926–  ) musician; born in St. Louis, Mo. As a singer-guitarist who drew from blues, rockabilly, and country-and-western styles, and wrote songs about teenage concerns, he was the biggest influence on pre-Beatles rock. He trained as a hairdresser and played with Johnnie Johnson's trio in East St. Louis, Ill., before launching his career with Chess Records in Chicago in 1955. With hit songs such as "School Days," "Rock and Roll Music," and "Johnny B Goode," he appealed to teenagers of all races. In 1962, he began serving a two-year sentence for violating the Mann Act. After his release in 1964, his career never fully recovered, although his 1972 release "My Ding A Ling" was the most successful record of his career. (He served other brief prison terms in 1979 and 1990.) In 1986, he became an inaugural member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. His memoir, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, was published in 1988.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.