December 18, 2014 04:20 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 "Johnny B. Goode" at a concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1995Bruce 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 "Johnny B. Goode" at a concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1995
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

  • A screenshot from Cuban television shows President Raul Castro addressing the country, in Havana, Dec. 17, 2014.

    Audio US, Cuba Normalize Relations

    After the release of Alan Gross from prison, U.S. and Cuba announce policy changes that end more than 50 years of diplomatic isolation that began in the Cold War. Also in the news, India joins Pakistan in mourning after Tuesday's Taliban attack. And Sony Pictures cancels release of "The Interview." More

  • Audio How Much of You Does Facebook Own?

    If you use Facebook, your friends may have posted an update recently saying Facebook is not permitted to violate their privacy. But how much of your data -- things you post -- does Facebook legally own? Experts say Facebook's terms of service agreement clearly says they own most of what you post. More

  • India schoolgirls offer prayers for victims killed in a Taliban attack on a Pakistan military-run school, in Mumbai, India, Dec. 17, 2014.

    Audio India Joins Pakistan in Mourning Murdered Students

    India and Pakistan have long disagreed about many issues. But on Wednesday, Indian lawmakers and students lowered their heads and observed two minutes of silence in memory of 132 Pakistani children. The children died on Tuesday in an attack on their school in the city of Peshawar. More

  • Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki, center left, gestures next to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center right, as they pose during an election night event at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo, Dec. 14, 2014.

    Video Shinzo Abe's Victory Likely Raises Conflict with Neighbors

    Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in Parliament on Sunday. Mr. Abe’s win will permit him to continue economic reforms. At the same time, he can also pursue policies likely to increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors. More

  • Texas Execution

    Audio In US, Support for Death Penalty Is Strong

    Public opinion surveys show 60 percent of Americans want judges and juries to be able to sentence criminals to death. But the same studies show that many Americans have concerns about the justice system and the way executions are carried out. | As It Is More

Featured Stories

  • Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomatox

    Audio Southern General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox

    General Robert E. Lee’s military skill and intelligence helped extend the war between the states. But even his skill could not save the South from the industrial power of the North and its mighty armies -- armies that were better-fed and better-equipped. On Sunday, August 9, Lee surrendered. More

  • Uganda Playground for Disabled Children

    Audio Helping Uganda’s Disabled Children Play

    You may think that all children have freedom to play. But for children who look differently from others or have physical disabilities, the idea of play can seem far away. An organization in Uganda is seeking to change that. Read on to learn words needed to talk about this sometimes difficult topic. More

  • A microneedle used to inject glaucoma medications into the eye is shown next to a liquid drop from a conventional eye dropper. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

    Audio Tiny Needles Treat Eye Disease

    Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. In the United States, more than two million people suffer from the disease. Now, researchers are developing very small needles that may offer a more effective and painless treatment for glaucoma and other eye diseases. More

  • The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement in Las Vegas

    Audio Mob Museum Tells About the Mafia in America

    The U.S. government has long used public money to fight organized crime. Now, public money is also paying for a museum in Las Vegas to tell about "The Mob,” and not everyone is happy about that. But some say it helps the local economy by bringing people to a part of Las Vegas that few visit. More

  • Big Hero

    Video Filmmakers Create New Technology for 'Big Hero 6'

    Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams wanted the film to be based on some real science, to make it believable. 'We don’t have any super-powered people in this movie. It’s all super technology.' The film was just nominated for a 2014 Golden Globe award for best animated film. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs