Spotlight On: Chuck Berry

Widely considered to be one of the pioneers of rock and roll music, Chuck Berry was recently honored with Sweden’s 2014 Polar Music Prize at a ceremony in the city of Stockholm’s Concert Hall. Unable to attend the ceremony due to ill health, Berry’s acceptance speech, in which he thanked the King and the Royal Family of Sweden for the honor, was delivered by Dave Edmunds. Berry joins the ranks of Polar Music Prize recipients which include Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Ravi Shankar, Joni Mitchel, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Miriam Makeba.

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926, in St Louis, Missouri, Chuck Berry discovered his talent for music at a young age, giving his first public performance while still in high school. Initially he played the blues, but started forming his own style and developing the showmanship he became known for. In 1955 he met Muddy Waters in Chicago and Waters directed him to Leonard Chess of Chess Records. His first hit record, Maybellene, reached the #1 spot on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart and sold more than a million copies. Roll Over Beethoven reached #29 on the Billboard Top 100 in June 1956.

By the 1960s the Rolling Stones and The Beatles had recorded cover versions of some of his songs, keeping him in the music-loving public’s attention. He had limited success in the recording studio at this time, but his unique and engaging style made him a hit for live concerts. He went on to write and record a number of songs that remain popular, and is acknowledged for his influence on the development of rock and roll music as a genre. He is included in several “Greatest of All Time” lists compiled by Rolling Stone, with his song Johnny B. Goode ranked at 1st place in the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” by the iconic magazine.