John Lennon once famously said, “If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’ ” Berry now has a new name of his own, too: American Music Master.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum continues its annual celebration of rock music’s early innovators and influences by honoring Berry — one of the genre’s oldest living legends and earliest pioneers — later this month with Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry.
“He’s the poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll,” says Terry Stewart, president and CEO of the Rock Hall. “Chuck was able to transcribe the words of teenagers’ dreams, whether you were black or white, younger or older. Chuck managed to do that in a unique fashion.”
Berry marks the 17th honoree of the American Music Masters series, but he’s always had a special connection to the Rock Hall. The man behind “Johnny B. Goode” and “Maybellene” was inducted with the initial group of Hall of Famers back in 1986 that included Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, and even performed at the museum’s opening ceremony.
“He’s sort of been there since the beginning, appearing at the big show and being a part of everything,” says Stewart. “He’s been connected to us. It’s kind of special to finally have him here to honor him.”
It’s also relatively shocking. Berry, who lives in St. Louis and will celebrate his 86th birthday only a few days prior to the festivities, has become notorious for being reclusive in his later years.
“I think there is a mystique about Chuck, as there should be,” says Stewart. “People are excited about seeing him in person and walking away with an idea of who this architect was.”
Events run Oct. 22-27 and promise plenty of interviews, panels and films focused on the man who redefined rhythm and blues. It all culminates at the tribute concert on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 27 at PlayhouseSquare’s State Theatre, during which Berry is scheduled to perform alongside artists such as Hall of Fame inductees Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers and Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.MC., as well as Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, M. Ward and others.
“It makes it that much more special when they’re with us to hear the tributes from the artists, to see the reverence that’s paid to them,” says Stewart. “We hope to have some of those special moments that you’ll only see at American Music Masters.”