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Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, dies aged 90

Police in St Louis, Missouri confirm musician’s death after being found unresponsive at his home on Saturday afternoo

19 March 2017, 9:23am
The legendary guitarist Chuck Berry, who merged blues and swing into the phenomenon of early rock’n’roll, died on Saturday aged 90 at his Missouri home, according to police.

Police in St Charles County, outside St Louis, said they were called to Berry’s home by a caretaker and found him unresponsive.

“Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques,” the police department said. “Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1.26pm.”

The department said Berry’s family has requested privacy “during this time of bereavement”.

Considered one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck Berry, whose full name was Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr, was present at its infancy in the 1950s and emerged as its first star guitarist and songwriter - a nearly 30-year-old black performer whose style electrified young white audiences and was emulated by white performers who came to dominate American popular music.

Musicians of all genres and ages paid tribute to Berry. “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived,” said Bruce Springsteen, who played with one of Berry’s pick-up bands before achieving his own fame.

“Thou Shall Have No Other Rock Gods Before Him,” the drummer and producer Questlove wrote. “His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream,” said Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger. “Chuck you were amazing [and] your music is engraved inside us forever.”

Bob Dylan called Berry "the Shakespeare of rock 'n' roll," and he was one of the first popular acts to write as well as perform his own songs. They focused on youth, romance, cars and good times, with lyrics that were complex, humorous and sometimes a little raunchy.

Berry was born the son of a deacon in a middle-class neighborhood of St Louis in 1926, and picked up the guitar in high school, playing at parties and developing his flourishes as a performer. He later said that it was during childhood that he began his signature dance, eventually dubbed “the duck walk” for its bent knees and stutter step.

On Saturday, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr wrote on Twitter: “RIP. And peace and love Chuck Berry Mr rock’n’roll music.”

His death came five months after Berry announced plans to release his first album of new music in 38 years some time in 2017 - a collection of mostly original material recorded and produced by Berry, titled "Chuck" and dedicated to his wife of 68 years, Themetta "Toddy" Berry.

"My darlin' I'm growing old! I've worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes," Berry wrote in a statement for the occasion, coinciding with his 90th birthday.

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