The Legendary Guitarist, Chuck Berry paved the way for Today’s Musicians
Racial and cultural undertones exist in almost everything we see and experience. This even applies to the music we listen to. Think about it… Pop and Rock Music can easily be associated with European culture. On the other hand, Hip Hop or Jazz can easily be associated with African American culture. That doesn’t necessarily mean Hip Hop is exclusively for Black people or that Pop Music is exclusively for White people. However, sometimes wires cross and perception becomes reality.
Music is universal, but somehow in mainstream media and in the history books Black people are often overshadowed or left out. When the reality is a lot of today’s music genres were pioneered by those of African descent. Let’s focus our attention on Chuck Berry, one of the innovators of today’s Rock and Roll. Many people remain unfamiliar with the impact of his legacy. As music continues to evolve over time, we can lose touch with our roots if we’re not careful. That’s why it’s vital to tell these stories and carry on legacies through generations.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry better known as Chuck Berry was born into a Black middle-class family in the mid-1920s. Having a budding interest in music from an early age; his first public performance was at his segregated High School, located in his hometown of St. Louis Missouri. Even though he established himself early on as a performer, he didn’t get any sort of break until around the age of 28.
During that time he had the opportunity to connect with a record executive. He recorded the hit record “Maybellene” known as one of the first Rock and Roll songs. Chuck’s first song turned out to be a hit which was written and recorded by him, along with his guitar instrumentation. Although his song received much recognition from all audiences, earning him rewards and honors; after it’s initial release many cover versions began circulating overshadowing his original.
It was also the 1950’s and in this era, disc jockeys would often receive publishing or writing credits for the promotion of records. This means that Chuck Berry as the writer, vocalist, composer, and guitarist would have to give up a percentage of his writing credits to a disc jockey, a form of payola. Despite any of the extras, he continued to excel as a star performer with hit records, tours, film appearances, and his signature duckwalk dance. He even owned a nightclub in St. Louis called Berry’s Club Bandstand.
Berry continued to have hit records in the early 1960s, but they did not have the same impact as his earlier records. Because of this, the public began demanding to see him perform his past hits until he was finally able to top the charts again in 1972. In 1986, he became one of the first to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame receiving recognition for laying the groundwork for Rock and Roll Music. This was 31 years after releasing his first song with Chess Records.
So why is it that so many of us know of Elvis and his contributions to the culture of Rock and Roll and not much or anything at all about Chuck Berry? We even refer to Elvis as the King of Rock and Roll while Berry, a very notable and credited artist slowly fades away as a distant memory. With the establishment of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 there was no denying Berry as a key contributor and pioneer of Rock and Roll, and in the 21st century, this isn’t any less true.
Cultural Icon Chuck Berry left us in March of 2017. We need to continue honoring his legacy and contributions to the culture of Rock and Roll music. When we go beyond the surface to explore we find that music is not simply black and white, neither figuratively or literally. Sure music may appear that way as notes on a page, but it takes so much more to make those black and white symbols come alive. Cultural and racial undertones may exist in our society, but we must never let them dim the lights of the stars that deserve to shine. Even if Black people are the only ones telling our story, it must continue to be told…
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