April 19, 2015 01:06 UTC

Entertainment

Musical Legend Chuck Berry Still Reeling and Rocking on Stage at 86

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

Chuck Berry performs at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 2001, for his 75th birthday celebrationChuck Berry performs at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 2001, for his 75th birthday celebration
x
Chuck Berry performs at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 2001, for his 75th birthday celebration
Chuck Berry performs at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 2001, for his 75th birthday celebration

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus. This week on our program -- the music of Chuck Berry. The man often called the "father of rock and roll" will be eighty-six this week and is still performing.
 
Another music great, Smokey Robinson, has described Chuck Berry as “the inspiration for all of today’s rock 'n' roll guitarists." And, Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers calls him "a musical scientist who discovered a cure for the blues."
 
One of Chuck Berry's first releases was "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." The last verse goes like this:
 
Two, three count with nobody on
He hit a high fly into the stand
Rounding third he was headed for home
It was a brown eyed handsome man
That won the game; it was a brown eyed handsome man
 
The song came out in nineteen fifty-six, less than ten years after major league baseball began to accept black players. The first was Jackie Robinson.
 
Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone magazine wrote about baseball songs on his blog and had this to say: "The guitar speeds up as Chuck Berry heads into the climactic final verse, when that brown-eyed handsome man (Willie Mays? Hank Aaron? Jackie Robinson?) wins the game with a home run. Chuck would've made a lousy sportscaster ('two-three the count'?) but that just adds to the excitement."
 
On stage, he became known for his wild performances, and his "duck walk" that many musicians copied. But his songwriting skills -- some call him a rock and roll poet -- and his guitar work really set him apart.
 
Early in his career he played mostly blues for black audiences in clubs in St. Louis, Missouri. But the most popular music in the area was country. So this musical scientist mixed country and blues and got songs like "Maybellene."
 
Chuck Berry was born on October eighteenth, nineteen twenty-six, in St. Louis, where he still lives. His mother, Martha, was a high school principal. His father, Henry, worked with wood; he was a carpenter.
 
Charles Edward Anthony Berry was born the fourth of six children. He started singing in church when he was six years old. His interest in music stuck with him.
 
A lot of Chuck Berry's material is about teenage life, especially school.
 
Chuck Berry left school when he was seventeen. He headed west with two friends, but they did not get far. They were arrested after they used a gun to steal a car in Kansas City, Missouri.
 
He was released from prison after four years when he reached the age of twenty-one. But that would not be the last of his legal problems over the years. 
 
Chuck Berry signed his first recording contract in nineteen fifty-five, with Chess Records. One of his early hits was "Rock & Roll Music."
 
That song also became a hit with other bands, including a certain well-known British group.
 
Chuck Berry started performing around the country in nineteen fifty-seven. Many years later, his tradition of asking to be paid before concerts even earned a part in the lighthearted crime film "Ocean's Thirteen."
 
BASHER TARR (DON CHEADLE): "Mr. Bank, do you know what Chuck Berry said every night before counting one-two-three-four?"
 
WILLIE BANK (AL PACINO): "What did he say?"
 
BASHER TARR: "Pay me my money!"
 
Filmmaker Taylor Hackford made a documentary called "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll," named for a Chuck Berry song. It centered on the making of a concert to honor the musician on his sixtieth birthday in nineteen eighty-six.
 
Guitarist Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones organized the concert. Listening to Chuck Berry songs got him interested in music. In Keith Richards' words, "I didn’t dream I could make a living at it but that’s what I wanted to do."
 
Some of the best moments in "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" are between Keith Richards and Chuck Berry.
 

Bruce Springsteen and Chuck Berry during the performance of Bruce Springsteen and Chuck Berry during the performance of "Johnny B. Goode" at a concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1995
x
Bruce Springsteen and Chuck Berry during the performance of
Bruce Springsteen and Chuck Berry during the performance of "Johnny B. Goode" at a concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1995

More than seventy-five artists and bands have done their own versions of Chuck Berry songs. Many have done several, including the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty and Bruce Springsteen.
 
Here are George Thorogood and the Destroyers with “It Wasn’t Me.”
 
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, included Chuck Berry in its first year of honors in nineteen eighty-six.  The Hall of Fame had this to say: "While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together."
 
Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. Tell us your favorite Chuck Berry song. Go to voaspecialenglish.com or the VOA Learning English page on Facebook. On our site you can also download MP3s of our programs and read the transcripts.  I’m Faith Lapidus.
 
And I’m Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: pepe from: colombia
10/19/2012 1:25 PM
hello world.


by: kika from: spain
10/18/2012 6:27 PM
My favourite song by chuck Berry is Jonnie B Good. I listened to this song for the firts time in the film "Back to the future" when Marty McFly played it. It has all the rythm in the world! It invited you to dance. this is the kind of songs that is never going to be out of fashion


by: Talor from: Taiwan
10/15/2012 1:55 AM
In my opinion, I'm not interested in Rock'n Roll. But I can still feel the pleasure and lightness image from the song that I have heard from the news. Thanks Chuck Berry. He mixed or combined country and blues song together so he was called music scientist. He shouldn't be involved in any illegal issue. It's a pity to use a gun and steal a car for him when he was teenager.

Learn with The News

  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is seen speaking at a news conference.

    Audio World Bank Head Sees Other Development Banks as Allies

    Slowing economic growth around the world is endangering the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty by the year 2030. Mr. Kim said the goal remains within reach. But he thinks extreme poverty will disappear only if world leaders and financial and development agencies do their part. More

  • Children playing on the shores of Guanabara Bay

    Audio Brazil Working to Clean Dirty Olympic Bay

    Around the world, people are excited for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The host city for the events is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city is known as Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvelous City – because of its beautiful landscapes. But one body of water in Rio, Guanabara Bay, is not so marvelous. More

  • Video New Movie Shows an Unseen Underwater World

    Jean-Michael Cousteau and his team used an IMAX camera to produce a 40-minute documentary about the world’s oceans. The film shows how the smallest life in the sea is important to the survival of all life on the planet. There are also thousands, maybe millions of species not yet identified. More

  • Audio Early American Railroads Shape Modern Language

    This week, we look at some train and railroad expressions commonly used in American English. This is only part one. There are many idioms and expressions relating to trains. So ... all aboard! Make sure you have your ticket because this train is leaving the station! More

  • Women in Combat

    Video Women Seek to Join US Army Rangers

    Army expects nearly 20 women will begin the difficult training on Monday; it says they will have to meet the same standards as men to graduate from course. Opinion study of male troops finds many do not think women should be Rangers. The Army says those who graduate will be Rangers. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Early American Railroads Shape Modern Language

    This week, we look at some train and railroad expressions commonly used in American English. This is only part one. There are many idioms and expressions relating to trains. So ... all aboard! Make sure you have your ticket because this train is leaving the station! More

  • Everyday Grammar - Gerunds and Infinitives

    Audio Everyday Grammar: Gerunds and Infinitives

    English learners have difficulty with gerunds and infinitives. A gerund is the –ing form of a verb that functions the same as a noun. For example, “Running is fun.” In this sentence, “running” is the gerund. It acts just like a noun. More

  • Autism book

    Video Mother, Son, Co-Write Children’s Book on Autism

    ‘If You Were Me’ tells the story of 18-year-old Burnie Rollinson’s story. He was diagnosed with Asperger's at age three. He has few friends but he enjoys a full and productive life. He and his mother, Anita Rollinson, created their book together. She wrote the words and Burnie drew the pictures. More

  • Video Benito Cereno by Herman Melville, Part Two

    Last week, we told how African slaves on a Spanish ship rebelled in seventeen ninety-nine. They killed most of the Spanish sailors. Only the captain, Benito Cereno and a few others survived. The story continues - what happened on Captain Cereno's ship? Read the second of three part More

  • Video Motor-Free Device Reduces Stress from Walking

    Devices that help people walk were once thought to be difficult, if not impossible, to design. Until recently, such a device required electricity from an external power supply. Now, American scientists have built a small, wearable addition to normal shoes. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner blog
Confessions of an English Learner blog

 

 

 

Tell us About Our Programs