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Rock Hall honors Chuck Berry
Rock and roll legend is the subject of this year's American Music Masters series
Story by DAVID C. BARNETT


 

A Rock and Roll pioneer is coming to Cleveland this week for a celebration of his impact on popular music. It's part of the 17th Annual American Music Masters series, co-sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Case Western Reserve University.

From Ohio Public Radio member station WCPN, David C. Barnett has more on the week-long tribute to Chuck Berry.

Barnett on this year's American Music Masters series

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He was among the first class of inductees into the Rock Hall. The museum’s Curatorial Director Howard Kramer says there’s a good reason for that.

"Chuck Berry is, without question, one of the reasons that there is something called Rock and Roll. He’s the guy who saw that there was a need for music that expressed the interests and thoughts of teenagers.  And he also understood that the way to do that was through upbeat dance music."

Berry’s 1957 hit “School Day” is a litany of teenage concerns: angsting over homework, being teased by a classmate, and the joy of dancing at a juke joint after school. In the 1987 documentary “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”, the African American performer revealed himself to be a canny businessman who understood his market.

"Working for my father in the white neighborhoods, I never heard Muddy Waters, I never heard Elmore James," Berry said. "I did hear Frank Sinatra, I heard Pat Boone. And then I thought, “Why can’t I do like Pat Boone does and play good music for the white people and sell as well there as I could in “the neighborhood”. And that’s what I shot for, and it caught on."

In a time when the music business consisted of separate songwriters, singers and musicians, Howard Kramer says Chuck Berry was the whole package.

"He wrote his own songs, and he sang them and he performed them with his band.  That was the template for Buddy Holly and the Crickets, that was the template for the Beatles, and so many other groups to follow."

And over a nearly 60 year career, Berry has had dozens of hit records. That musical legacy will be honored with series of lectures and films, culminating in a star-studded concert on October 27th.  Berry himself will be in attendance and the organizers are hoping that the 86-year-old will be moved to pick-up his guitar and join in.

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