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Chuck Berry was one of the most popular and influential performers of rhythm-and-blues and rock 'n' roll music during the 1950s, '60s and '70s. He's known for songs like "Johnny B. Goode" and "My Ding-a-Ling."
Ray Charles - Mini Biography (4:13)
Steve Howe, of the band Yes, on the innovative style of his musical idol, Chuck Berry, telling a story.
Chuck Berry talks about the origins of rock 'n' roll and how he recorded his music to identify with teenagers and their standards of living and life.
Buddy Holly was a pioneer in the world of rock and roll and had changed the face of music at the time until his tragic death in 1959.
Ray Charles was one of America's greatest musicians, pioneering the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm & blues, gospel and blues.
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The three young men received the maximum penalty—10 years in jail—despite being minors and first-time offenders.
Berry served three years in the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men outside of Jefferson, Missouri, before gaining release on good behavior on October 18, 1947, which was his 21st birthday. He returned to St. Louis, where he worked for his father's construction business and part-time as a photographer and as a janitor at a local auto plant.
Berry married Themetta "Toddy" Suggs, with whom he would eventually have four children. He also took up the guitar again when, in 1951, his former high school classmate Tommy Stevens invited him to join his band. They played at local black nightclubs in St. Louis, and Berry quickly developed a reputation for his lively showmanship. At the end of 1952, he met Jonnie Johnson, a local jazz pianist, and joined his band, the Sir John's Trio. Berry revitalized the band and introduced upbeat country numbers into the band's repertoire of jazz and pop music. They played at the Cosmopolitan, an upscale black nightclub in East St. Louis, which began attracting white patrons.
In the mid-1950s, Berry began taking road trips to Chicago, the Midwest capital of black music, in search of a record contract. Early in 1955, he met the legendary blues musician Muddy Waters, who suggested that Berry go meet with Chess Records. A few weeks later, Berry wrote and recorded a song called "Maybellene" and took it to the executives at Chess. They immediately offered him a contract; within months, "Maybellene" had reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 5 on the pop charts. With its unique blend of a rhythm and blues beat, country guitar licks and the flavor of Chicago blues and narrative storytelling, many music historians consider "Maybellene" the first true rock 'n' roll song.
Berry quickly followed with a slew of other unique singles that continued to carve out the new genre of rock 'n' roll: "Roll Over, Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business" and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," among others. Berry managed to achieve crossover appeal with white youths without alienating his black fans by mixing blues and R&B sounds with storytelling that spoke to the universal themes of youth. In the late 1950s, songs such as "Johnny B. Goode," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Carol" all managed to crack the Top 10 of the pop charts by achieving equal popularity with youths on both sides of the racial divide. "I made records for people who would buy them," Berry said. "No color, no ethnic, no political—I don't want that, never did.''
Berry's soaring music career was derailed again in 1961 when he was convicted under the Mann Act of illegally transporting a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes." Three years earlier, in 1958, Berry had opened Club Bandstand in the predominantly white business district of downtown St. Louis. The next year, while traveling in Mexico, he had met a 14-year-old Native American waitress—and sometimes prostitute—and brought her back to St.
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