“Who Was Chuck Berry?”

Chuck Berry – 1926

The Grammy-winning and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Chuck Berry influenced generations of musicians and artists.

With a slew of number one hits, Berry ushered in the era of Rock & Roll. His first hit song, “Maybellene,” was followed by “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” and “Johnny B. Goode,” along with several other popular songs in between.

He continued to perform well into the 1990s.

 

Chuck Berry was one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll performers in music history. He’s known for songs including “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Goode.”

Who Was Chuck Berry?

Considered by many as the “father of rock ‘n’ roll,” Chuck Berry had early exposure to music at school and church. As a teen, he was sent to prison for three years for armed robbery. He began producing hits in the 1950s, including 1958’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and had his first No. 1 hit in 1972 with “My Ding-a-Ling.” With his clever lyrics and distinctive sounds, Berry became one of the most influential figures in the history of rock music.

Early Life in St. Louis

Chuck Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri. His parents, Martha and Henry Berry, were the grandchildren of enslaved people, and are among the many African Americans who migrated from the rural South to St. Louis in search of employment during the World War I era. Martha was one of the few Black women of her generation to gain a college education, and Henry was an industrious carpenter as well as a deacon at the Antioch Baptist Church.

At the time of Berry’s birth, St. Louis was a sharply segregated city. He grew up in a north St. Louis neighborhood called the Ville—a self-contained middle-class Black community that was a haven for Black-owned businesses and institutions. The neighborhood was so segregated that Berry had never even encountered a white person until the age of three when he saw several white firemen putting out a fire. ”I thought they were so frightened that their faces were whitened from fear of going near the big fire,” he once recalled. ”Daddy told me they were white people, and their skin was always white that way, day or night.”

The fourth of six children, Berry pursued a variety of interests and hobbies as a child. He enjoyed doing carpentry work for his father and learned photography from his uncle, Harry Davis, a professional photographer. Berry also showed an early talent for music and began singing in the church choir at the age of six. He attended Sumner High School, a prestigious private institution that was the first all-Black high school west of the Mississippi. For the school’s annual talent show, Berry sang Jay McShann’s “Confessin’ the Blues” while accompanied by a friend on the guitar. Although the school administration bristled at what they viewed as the song’s crude content, the performance was an enormous hit with the student body and sparked Berry’s interest in learning the guitar himself. He started guitar lessons soon after, studying with local jazz legend Ira Harris.

Berry also grew into something of a troublemaker in high school. He was uninterested in his studies and felt constrained by the strict decorum and discipline. In 1944, at the age of 17, Berry and two friends dropped out of high school and set off on an impromptu road trip to California. They had gone no farther than Kansas City when they came across a pistol abandoned in a parking lot and, seized by a terrible fit of youthful misjudgment, decided to go on a robbing spree. Brandishing the pistol, they robbed a bakery, a clothing store and a barbershop, then stole a car before being arrested by highway patrolmen. The three young men received the maximum penalty—10 years in jail—despite being minors and first-time offenders.

Chuck Berry, circa 1958

Chuck Berry poses for a portrait holding his Gibson hollowbody electric guitar circa 1958.

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Berry served three years in the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men outside of Jefferson, Missouri, before gaining release on good behavior on October 18, 1947, which was his 21st birthday. He returned to St. Louis, where he worked for his father’s construction business and part-time as a photographer and as a janitor at a local auto plant.

In 1948, Berry married Themetta “Toddy” Suggs, with whom he would eventually have four children. He also took up the guitar again when, in 1951, his former high school classmate Tommy Stevens invited him to join his band. They played at local Black nightclubs in St. Louis, and Berry quickly developed a reputation for his lively showmanship. At the end of 1952, he met Jonnie Johnson, a local jazz pianist, and joined his band, the Sir John’s Trio. Berry revitalized the band and introduced upbeat country numbers into the band’s repertoire of jazz and pop music. They played at the Cosmopolitan, an upscale Black nightclub in East St. Louis, which began attracting white patrons.

Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll

In the mid-1950s, Berry began taking road trips to Chicago, the Midwest capital of Black music, in search of a record contract. Early in 1955, he met the legendary blues musician Muddy Waters, who suggested that Berry go meet with Chess Records. A few weeks later, Berry wrote and recorded a song called “Maybellene” and took it to the executives at Chess. They immediately offered him a contract; within months, “Maybellene” had reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 5 on the pop charts. With its unique blend of a rhythm and blues beat, country guitar licks and the flavor of Chicago blues and narrative storytelling, many music historians consider “Maybellene” the first true rock ‘n’ roll song.

 

Berry quickly followed with a slew of other unique singles that continued to carve out the new genre of rock ‘n’ roll: “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” among others. Berry managed to achieve crossover appeal with white youths without alienating his Black fans by mixing blues and R&B sounds with storytelling that spoke to the universal themes of youth. In the late 1950s, songs such as “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Carol” all managed to crack the Top 10 of the pop charts by achieving equal popularity with youths on both sides of the racial divide. “I made records for people who would buy them,” Berry said. “No color, no ethnic, no political—I don’t want that, never did.”

 

Berry’s soaring music career was derailed again in 1961 when he was convicted under the Mann Act of illegally transporting a woman across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Three years earlier, in 1958, Berry had opened Club Bandstand in the predominantly white business district of downtown St. Louis. The next year, while traveling in Mexico, he had met a 14-year-old waitress—and sometimes prostitute—and brought her back to St. Louis to work at his club. However, he fired her only weeks later, and when she was then arrested for prostitution, charges were pressed against Berry that ended with him spending yet another 20 months in jail.

When Berry was released from prison in 1963, he picked up right where he left off, writing and recording popular and innovative songs. His 1960s hits include “Nadine,” “You Can Never Tell,” “Promised Land” and “Dear Dad.” Nevertheless, Berry was never the same man after his second stint in prison. Carl Perkins, his friend and partner on a 1964 British concert tour, observed, “Never saw a man so changed. He had been an easygoing guy before, the kinda guy who’d jam in dressing rooms, sit and swap licks and jokes. In England he was cold, real distant and bitter. It wasn’t just jail, it was those years of one-nighters, grinding it out like that can kill a man, but I figure it was mostly jail.”

Berry released one of his last albums of original music, Rock It, to fairly positive reviews in 1979. While Berry continued to perform into the 1990s, he would never recapture the magnetic energy and originality that had first catapulted him to fame during the ’50s and ’60s.

Chuck Berry in 1992

Chuck Berry in 1992

Photo: Horstmann/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Berry still remains one of the genre’s most influential musicians. In 1985, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. A year later, in 1986, he became the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s first inductee. Perhaps the best measure of Berry’s influence is the extent to which other popular artists have copied his work. The Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles have all covered various Chuck Berry songs, and Berry’s influences—both subtle and profound—pervade all of their music.

Introducing Berry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones said, “It’s very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry ’cause I’ve lifted every lick he ever played. This is the man that started it all!”

On his 90th birthday, the music legend announced that he had plans to release a new album dedicated to Themetta, whom he called Toddy, his wife of 68 years. “This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy,” he said in a statement. “My darlin’, I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”

Death and Legacy

Berry died on March 18, 2017, at the age of 90. He is remembered as a founding father of rock ‘n’ roll, whose pioneering career influenced generations of musicians. 


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“NATIONAL MULLIGAN DAY”

NATIONAL MULLIGAN DAY – October – 17

National Mulligan Day is observed annually on October 17th. 

In golf, a mulligan happens when a player gets a second chance to perform a specific move or action. The day offers an opportunity for giving yourself a second chance or, as some people call it, a “do-over.”   

According to the United States Golf Association (USGA), three different stories explain the origin of the term. The first derives from the name of a Canadian golfer, David Mulligan, a one-time manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, who played golf in the 1920s. A different, later, etymology gives credit to John A. “Buddy” Mulligan, a locker room attendant at Essex Fells C.C., New Jersey, in the 1930s. Another story, according to author Henry Beard, states that the term comes from Thomas Mulligan, a minor Anglo-Irish aristocrat and a passionate golfer who was born in 1793.

According to the United States Golf Association (USGA), the term first achieved widespread use in the 1940s.

HOW TO OBSERVE #NationalMulliganDay

We can all think of something that at one point in time, we have said, “I wish I could do that over.”  Celebrate the day by taking your do-over. Also, be considerate and offer a Mulligan to a few friends and neighbors out there. Some days we all deserve it. Use #NationalMulliganDay to post on social media.

NATIONAL MULLIGAN DAY HISTORY

C. Daniel Rhodes of Hoover, AL, National Mulligan Day as a way to give everyone a day to have a fresh start.  Along with Mulligan Day, Rhodes created Brother’s Day (May 24) and National Garage Sale Day (Second Saturday in August).


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“NATIONAL SWEETEST DAY”

NATIONAL SWEETEST DAY – Third Saturday in October

National Sweetest Day is observed on the third Saturday in October by people of all ages.

For over 100 years, National Sweetest Day encourages everyone to be generous even in the smallest ways. From its inception as Candy Day in 1916, this day reminds us that even small tokens improve the lives of those around us. While the observance started with candy and sweets given to our sweethearts and friends, the day is full of lessons in persistence, resilience, and doing small things greatly.  

On National Sweetest Day, take care of all those who need extra attention. Even those who need significant care, when given the smallest token, will feel the effects. A little treat, a card, a show of support during a time of need may be the sweetest gift on this day.

HOW TO OBSERVE #NationalSweetestDay

Give a gift to someone who needs a reminder of the sweetness in the world. It is, after all, the Sweetest Day of the Year. We also suggest these sweet ways to celebrate!

  • Gather friends for a candy-making session. Make candies to give and share with others.
  • Write or type up your favorite candy recipes to share with friends and family. Be sure to include a sample of the recipe for tasting!
  • Surprise a co-worker with their favorite coffee.
  • Invite a friend for dinner.
  • Leave a card or note with kind words for a neighbor, new co-worker or your child.
  • Pack your spouse’s lunch for them.
  • Cheer up someone you know with a smile and a funny story.
  • Share donuts. You can never go wrong with donuts.
  • Read these 7 Ways to Be Thoughtful.

Use #NationalSweetestDay to post on social media.

NATIONAL SWEETEST DAY HISTORY

National Sweetest Day found its beginnings in a holiday founded by the National Confectioners’ Association in 1916 called Candy Day.  On October 14, 1916, candy shops around the country filled newspapers announcing their sweetest treats and delights.  Originally designated to be celebrated the second Saturday of every October, the confectioners’ convention in Detroit in May of 1916 made the final resolution. Walter C. Hughes, the secretary of the National Confectioners’ Association, encouraged Americans to patronizes their local candy shops, bakers, and druggist for the highest quality confections.

Candy Day

Early advertisements found in Indiana, Minnesota, and Texas newspapers mention the “Sweetest Day of the Year” in reference to Candy Day.  However, it was not the official name of the day – not yet.

By 1917 war raging in Europe, and many retailers encouraged patrons to “Get one for yourself and one for the boys overseas!”

Then in April of 1918, the United States officially entered the war in Europe, and with that came rationing.  Sugar, as well as many other commodities, became scarce.  Sponsors shelved the holiday just as it was starting to see such success.

Sweetest Day of the Year Returns

With the end of the war in 1919, sweetness returned to October.  So sweet, in fact, Candy Day became an entire week.  Then in 1923, the day kicked into full charitable swing.

Sweetest Day’s theme of charity and giving became apparent in 1921. At the time, four Michigan confectioners united with the Red Cross. Those confectioners included the Detroit Retail Confectioners, Detroit Wholesale Confections Club, Detroit Jobbing Confectioners Association, and the Michigan Confectioners Club. Together, they distributed thousands of bags of candy to hospitals, orphanages, shelters, and homes across Michigan. The celebration also included 100 regulation army target balloons, which dropped coupons worth a box of candy.

In 1929, Sweetest Day settled into its current home, the third Saturday in October.


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“NATIONAL BOSS’S DAY”

National Boss’s Day - October 16

On October 16th, National Boss’s Day, also known as National Boss Day or Bosses Day, recognizes the hardworking boss overseeing the workplace. Employees across the United States show appreciation and thankfulness to their bosses. They remember their boss’s kindness and fairness throughout the year, too. (If the 16th of October falls on a weekend, then this day is celebrated on the closest working day.)

Many leaders carry heavy loads. They oversee many employees and guide their careers, too. While their position holds them responsible for a department, business, or organization and leading it to success, their list of responsibilities is multifaceted.

Some bosses have bosses themselves. Depending on the size of an organization, those bosses also answer to someone else. In fact, everyone has a boss of some kind. If your boss is the owner, they still answer to the taxman, the customers, and their merchants. Keeping a business running smoothly with outstanding employees requires balance. These bosses know how to put their best employees forward and lead with the confidence that we look up to. 

We can celebrate our bosses in numerous ways.

  • Give your boss the day off with a game of golf.
  • Host a potluck with your boss’s favorite foods.
  • Have everyone in the office sign a card of appreciation.
  • Invite customers or clients to share memories of your boss.
  • Create a timeline of your boss’s accomplishments.

Give them a shout-out using #BossDay to post on social media.

NATIONAL BOSS’S DAY HISTORY

National Boss’s Day, also known as National Boss Day or Bosses Day, is a secular holiday that began in 1958.  Patricia Bays Haroski worked as a secretary for State Farm Insurance Company in Deerfield, Illinois when she registered “National Boss’s Day” with the United States Chamber of Commerce. She selected October 16th because it was her father’s birthday and at the time, he was also her employer! Four years later, in 1962, Illinois Governor, Otto Kerner, backed Haroski’s registration and officially proclaimed Boss’s day. In 1979, Hallmark Cards introduced Boss’s Day cards to their inventory.


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“NATIONAL DESSERT DAY”

National Dessert Day - October 14

People around the country indulge every October 14th on National Dessert Day!  Celebrated by way of the local bakery, grandma’s house or chocolate shop, desserts include candies, pies, ice cream, fruits, cookies, pastries, cobblers, and donuts, too. 

The available ingredients affect the range of desserts made in each region. The very first desserts required minimal effort or preparation since ancient cultures were more focused on the nutrition in foods to survive. Over the years, desserts have changed from natural candies and nuts to complex soufflés and multi-layered cakes. In modern culture, there are many more options available in desserts.

Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart. ~ Erma Bombeck

Throughout the year, we see seasonal delights. As we near the holiday season, the flavors change. For some, the taste of gingerbread or fruitcake may come to mind. Others will pull out recipes handed down for generations. Pecan, pumpkin, and apple pies come to mind. Other rich desserts round out the dessert table, too. Flan, tarts, and everything with maple glaze.

HOW TO OBSERVE #NationalDessertDay

This is an excellent day to order dessert first! Whether you go out to your favorite bakery or whip up something delicious at home, share your celebrations with others. Give a shout out to your favorite baker or share your go-to recipe. What’s your favorite dessert? Pie, cake, or something in between? Post photos on social media using #NationalDessertDay.

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes
Apple Pie by Grandma Ople
Chocolate Mint Cookies
Hot Fudge Ice Cream Bar
Uncooked Banana Pudding
Lemon Cake

NATIONAL DESSERT DAY HISTORY

National Day Calendar® continues researching the origins of the sweet food holiday.


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“Gemma’s Better-Than-Boxed Brownies Recipe”

Leave the boxed brownies at the store and make my Better Than Boxed Brownies recipe for an elevated chocolate experience.

Hi Bold Bakers!

There’s no shame in picking up a boxed brownie mix from your grocery store to whip up a quick, easy dessert for when your chocolate cravings hit — but my “homemade” boxed brownie recipe is just as easy, even more delicious, and (what I love most) you know exactly what you’re putting into your mix.

I have a lot of brownie recipes (everything from My Best-Ever Brownies, to indulgent Cream Cheese Brownies, to my 1-Minute Microwave Mug Brownie!), but these brownies have such a yummy flavor, and the texture is incredible! They have the fantastic crisp on top and an unbelievable chewy center.

If you noticed, the chocolate in these brownies looks especially melty. We took the photos of these brownies while they were still warm — we were too excited to wait to eat them!!

This recipe reminds me a lot of those boxed brownie mixes you can pick up, so if you have a hardcore boxed-brownies-only fan at home, give this recipe a shot.

Have your own Bake Off! One person makes the boxed version, and one person whips this homemade version up.

You will need an impartial judge, though I’m sure you won’t have to look very hard for someone willing to have at least two brownies.

 

What Are Better-Than-Boxed Brownies

My “Homemade” boxed brownie recipe is a lot like the boxed version from the grocery store. You know, the kind with all the pre-measured dry ingredients that you add some oil and an egg to. 

This recipe calls for a lot of similar ingredients, except we use butter, high-quality bittersweet chocolate, and zero palm oil, or corn syrup, or any other ingredient that makes you raise an eyebrow when you’re reading the back of the box. 

 

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Leave the boxed brownies at the store and make my Better Than Boxed Brownies recipe for an elevated chocolate experience.
Author: Gemma Stafford
Servings: 9 people

Ingredients

    • 2 sticks (8 oz./225g) butter

    • 2 cups (12 flu oz./340g) chopped bittersweet chocolate (divided)
    • cup (8 oz./225g) granulated sugar
    • ½ cup (3 oz./85g) dark brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 4 large room temperature eggs (beaten)

    • ½ cup (2 ½ oz./71g) all-purpose flour
    • ½ cup (2 oz./57g) unsweetened cocoa powder

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Butter and line an 8×8 inch pan with parchment paper.
  • Melt together the butter and 1 ½ cups (9 oz./255g) of the chopped chocolate. Do this gently in the microwave or over a Ban Marie.
  • Once melted and smooth, stir in the sugars, vanilla, and salt.
  • Briefly whisk the beaten eggs into the chocolate mix until just combined.
  • Sift over the bowl your flour and cocoa powder. Stir until just combined.
  • Lastly, fold in the remaining ½ cup (3 oz./85g) chopped chocolate before evenly spreading the mixture into the prepared baking pan.
  • Bake for roughly 30-35 minutes or until the brownies are just set. Allow cooling slightly before enjoying them warm with vanilla ice cream.

and…

Boxed brownies are delicious — there, I said it! But what if there was a way to get the same results and know exactly what’s going in them? Say hello to my Better-Than-Boxed Brownies recipe and experience a homemade brownie above the rest. Written recipe: http://bit.ly/BetterThanBoxed

There’s no shame in picking up a boxed brownie mix from your grocery store to whip up a quick, easy dessert for when your chocolate cravings hit — but my “homemade” boxed brownie recipe is just as easy, even more delicious, and (what I love most) you know exactly what you’re putting into your mix.

If you have a hardcore boxed-brownies-only fan at home, give this recipe a shot. Have your own Bake Off! One person makes the boxed version, and one person whips this homemade version up. You will need an impartial judge, though I’m sure you won’t have to look very hard for someone willing to have at least two brownies.


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