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Chuck Berry, rock 'n' roll pioneer, dies at 90

St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in News & Features

Chuck Berry, one of the most influential figures in American popular music, has died at age 90.

Police were called to a medical emergency early Saturday afternoon, according to St. Charles, Mo, County police, according to the department's Facebook page.

Inside the home, medics found an unresponsive man and administered lifesaving techniques, according to the report.

"The St. Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry," the police statement reads.

Among rock 'n' roll legends, the singer, songwriter and guitarist behind hits like "Maybellene" and "My Ding-a-Ling" was a duck-walking contradiction.

He was the middle-age black pioneer of a genre that became associated with white teenagers. He was a teetotaler and thrifty. He was a haphazard performer who often traveled to gigs alone and relied on local musicians to perform his songs without rehearsal or even a greeting. He was an intensely private man who did some of his most important songwriting in prison.

And ultimately, he was a survivor.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on Oct. 18, 1926, in his family's home in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis. His father, Henry, did home repairs and was a lay preacher at Antioch Baptist Church. His mother, Martha, sang in the church choir.

Chuck, the fourth of six children, was no choirboy. In the summer of 1944, after graduating from Sumner High School, he and two friends hopped into his Oldsmobile for a trip to California and robbed several stores in western Missouri to pay for car repairs. When the Olds broke down near Columbia, the three were arrested on robbery and weapons charges, and Berry spent three years in the Algoa reformatory in Jefferson City, Mo. It was first of three extended jail terms he would serve.

At Algoa, with the encouragement of a nun, Berry developed his interest in singing. Released on his 21st birthday, he went to work for his father rehabbing houses in the suburbs. At 22, he married Themetta "Toddy" Suggs, whom he met at a May Day picnic in Tandy Park, and enrolled in the Poro School of Beauty Culture to study cosmetology.

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