Chuck Berry, the first and one of the greatest rock and roll guitarists and songwriters, has died. He was 90.
His death was announced by police in St. Charles, MO. According to reports, medical responders arrived at a home on St. Charles’ Buckner Road at 12:40 pm today. Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr. was pronounced dead at 1:26 pm.
On its Facebook page, the St. Charles County Police Department said: “St. Charles County police responded to a medical emergency on Buckner Road at approximately 12:40 p.m. today (Saturday, March 18). Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques. Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1:26 p.m.
The St. Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry.
The family requests privacy during this time of bereavement.”
Berry, widely considered among rock’s the true pioneers – perhaps the truest – wrote and performed bedrock songs of the genre, playing his guitar, in the words he himself wrote, like ringing a bell. Among his 1950s classics: “Maybellene”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Rock and Roll Music” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
Among rock and roll’s first generation Mount Rushmore, Berry’s rivals for founder status are few: Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, maybe Ike Turner and one or two others (start the arguing now).
In 1977, NASA sent a two-hour recording of Earth sounds – animals, a passage from the Koran, a message from President Jimmy Carter and a snippet of Chuck Berry’s music, among other things – on Voyager I, leading to a classic Saturday Night Live joke delivered by Steve Martin, ostensibly relaying a deep-space response: “Send more Chuck Berry.”
Said John Lennon, famously, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” With his trademark duck-walk and wide-stance pose, Berry’s appearances in the early genre films Rock Rock Rock (1956) and Go, Johnny, Go! (1959) all but set the standard, both musically and visually, for rock guitarists.
An absurdly abridged list of musicians inspired by Berry’s brilliance – essentially anyone who ever picked up an electric Fender or Gibson guitar – includes The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Page and on and on. Rolling Stone magazine has ranked him as #6 on the its Greatest Guitarists list, and 5th on its “Immortals” roster of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
His music played pivotal moments in film, too, including Michael J. Fox inventing “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future, and Uma Thurman and John Travolta dancing to his “You Never Can Tell” in Pulp Fiction. Check out the latter below, as a final, joyous tribute.
Today’s tributes began almost immediately.