Chuck Berry, one of the creators of rock ‘n’ roll who helped shape modern youth culture with his dance-ready rhythms but who struggled to overcome institutional racism, died Saturday. He was 90.
“Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived. This is a tremendous loss of a giant for the ages,” Bruce Springsteen tweeted.
His death drew emotional tributes from fellow musicians and other celebrities who praised him as a rock ‘n’ roll trailblazer.
Brian Wilson called Berry “a big inspiration! He will be missed by everyone who loves Rock ‘n’ Roll. Love & Mercy.”
“R I P. And peace and love Chuck Berry Mr. rock ‘n’ roll music.” tweeted former Beattle Ringo Starr.
Other stars included Rod Stewart who said Berry “inspired us all. The 1st album I bought was Chuck’s ‘Live at the Tivoli’ and I was never the same.”
The Rolling Stones sent a group tweet hailing Berry as “not only a brilliant guitarist, singer and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter.”
Separately Mick Jagger also said “I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us,” Ronnie Wood called Berry “one of the best” and Keith Richards tweeted: “One of my big lights has gone out.”
Author Stephen King, a keen musician, said: “This breaks my heart, but 90 years old ain’t bad for rock and roll. Johnny B. Goode forever.”
Berry became a sensation in the years after World War II as the baby boom generation came of age in an increasingly prosperous America.
The middle-class son of a carpenter and a high school principal, Berry grew up under segregation but instinctively sensed how to bridge the racial divide.
Berry had played blues guitar but found that his white audience was more interested in country. He merged the styles with an electric energy and consummate stage showmanship, although he hesitated to say that he created rock ‘n’ roll.
“It used to be called boogie-woogie, it used to be called blues, used to be called rhythm and blues,” he later said. “It’s called rock now.”
His 1958 hit “Johnny B. Goode” was so influential and recognizable that the US space program chose it to represent rock music for potential extraterrestrial listeners on the Voyager spacecraft.
“Roll Over Beethoven” from 1956 was almost a manifesto of rock ‘n’ roll as the charismatic Berry urged the DJ to switch off the classical records and turn to the new genre of the youth.