Legendary rock musician Chuck Berry is dead at the age of 90.
The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri confirmed his death March 18 in a post to Facebook.
The police department said it responded to a “medical emergency” at 12:40 p.m. on March 18 to find Berry laying on the ground unresponsive. Life-saving techniques by paramedics on scene were unsuccessful and Berry was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m. Police have not yet revealed a cause of death.
His death has saddened many in the music industry, with musicians tweeting out their condolences and speaking about how Berry influenced their style.
Here’s what you need to know about Berry and his death:
1. Berry Was Known as a Pioneer of Rock & Roll Music
In nearly 70 years in the industry, Berry and musical his style have and continue to receive much praise.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1985 by The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards.
In addition, Berry has a star on Hollywood Boulevard in California, and was honored with the 2014 Polar Music Prize.
Berry got his start in music when he was a teenager by performing blues music while in high school during the late 1940s.
Soon enough, Berry was performing in a blues band in an area in Missouri that was predominantly white. The most popular music genre in the area was hillbilly during the era, and when people heard there was a black man performing a few hillbilly songs with his band, they came to watch. He wrote in Chuck Berry: The Autobiography:
Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering “who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?” After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.
Berry was finally put inside of the studio in 1955 to record an album, and that’s where the hits started coming. He helped to redefine blues with his style by incorporating musical elements that helped influence the rock and roll genre.
One of his most popular songs “Maybellene,” was recorded that year, and he added even more hits to his discography with songs like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
“Maybellene” was so popular that the song sold over 1 million copies and reached the No. 1 position on Billboard‘s R&B chart.
Berry performed his songs all across the nation and became known for his “duck walk” dance move during live shows.
2. He Was the 4th Child In a Family of 6 & Had 4 Kids of His Own
Berry had a large family — three sisters and two brothers. He was born in 1926 in San Jose, California before he and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. The Berrys lived a largely middle-class life, which helped motivate him to begin singing in the church choir and in his school’s glee club.
Berry reportedly leaves behind four children, Darlin Ingrid, Melody Exes, Aloha Isa Lei and Charles Edward Jr.
According to IMDb, Aloha studied at the same school hip-hop artist Nelly attended, University City High School. Later in Berry’s life, Charles Jr. became a part of his touring band, playing the guitar.
In 2008, The Telegraph reported that Berry once skipped out on performing a show at the last minute because he was “sulking” after arguing with his daughter. The report doesn’t mention which daughter this was, but Ingrid often traveled with her father.
“They apparently rowed because she did not allow him to drive as fast as he would have liked on the British roads,” a Spanish newspaper reported.
3. When He was a Teen, He Was Arrested For Robbery & Then In 1959 for a Relationship With a 14-Year-Old Girl
Before bursting onto the music scene, Berry ran into trouble with the law.
In 1947, he was arrested for armed robbery when he hijacked a car at gunpoint and proceeded to rob two stores. He served two-and-a-half years in prison as a result of the crim and played music part-time after his release.
Twelve years later, Berry ran into more trouble with the law. While heading to a show in El Paso, Texas, Berry met a girl at a restaurant named Janice Escalante.
Escalante turned out to be a 14-year-old runaway from her home in Arizona, though she had told Berry that she was 21. The two formed a relationship and she went on tour with him and his band.
In his autobiography, Berry said about his relationship with Escalante:
It was no easy thing to lay off of her when she proceeded to undress right before me and climb into my bed. But without the challenge that usually confronts a guy, I managed to postpone the joys, thinking we’d have a chance on the road later.
Escalante was arrested by police for alleged prostitution at a hotel, and authorities wanted to question Berry. Courts found him guilty of violating the “Mann Act,” which “prohibits interstate or foreign transportation of an individual with the intention of engaging such individual in sexual activity or prostitution.
As a result of his relationship with her, he served three years in prison and had to pay a $10,000 fine.
But those weren’t his only run-ins with the law.
In the late 1970s, Berry served more time in jail for tax evasion and he was in a courtroom once again in 1989 for allegedly videotaping an employee at his restaurant “for the improper purpose of the entertainment and gratification.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Berry was sued by a former cook at his restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri called Southern Air. The cook, Hosana A. Huck, filed a lawsuit against Berry and his home was raided one year later.
In a search of his home, authorities found videotapes, marijuana, three weapons and $130,000. After the raid, a class action lawsuit was filed by multiple women who alleged that Berry videotaped them undressing in bathrooms.
He ended up settling with police for two years unsupervised probation for the marijuana charge, and reports say the class action lawsuit cost him $1.2 million.
4. He Was Married to Themetta Berry for 68 Years
After serving his first stint in prison, Berry married Themetta “Toddy” Suggs on October 28, 1948. The two stayed together for the rest of Chuck’s life.
The book, Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry, included Chuck Themetta speaking about how their relationship and love for each other has only grown over the years.
“We have had a wonderful marriage,” Themetta was quoted as saying after the couple celebrated their 38th anniversary. “We love each other as much as we did the day we met.”
5. He Was Set to Release a New Album in 2017
Even when the years stacked up and Berry approached age 90, he never stopped playing music. In fact, he continued to play shows across the nation and was even set to release his first album since 1979 in 2017.
This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy. My darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!
The album was set to be his last and is comprised of new, original songs that were written and produced by Berry. Songs on the album feature his children, Charles Jr. (guitar) and Ingrid (harmonica).
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