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Rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry has died aged 90

The singer and guitarist helped create the genre in the 50s and 60s.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

CHUCK BERRY, ONE of the creators of rock ‘n’ roll whose dance-ready rhythms and energetic stage performances helped define modern youth culture, has died.

He was 90.

Police in the St Louis area, where Berry was born and lived most of his life, said that first responders found the guitar legend unresponsive when they responded to an emergency call at his home.

“The St Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr, better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry,” the department said on Facebook.

Berry became a sensation in the years after World War II as he brought together rhythm and blues, country guitar and a consummate stage showmanship.

His 1958 hit Johnny B. Goode was so influential and recognisable that the US space programme 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.

Other hits included Maybellene, one of the pioneering rock songs that gave a guitar edge to a popular fiddle tune, and Sweet Little Sixteen, in which Berry hailed rock ‘n’ roll’s sweep across the United States.

But Berry, one of the first African Americans to find a widespread white audience, saw his career crumble in 1959 when he was arrested for taking a 14-year-old girl across state lines for “immoral purposes” under an obscure 1910 law.

Berry defended himself against the allegations he slept with the young waitress. But he was convicted by an all-white jury and served a year and a half in prison.

Associates would later describe the laid-back and fun-loving Berry as a changed man, and the conviction has long been viewed in the African American community as a warning sign for artists on the rise.

Low profile

Berry mostly avoided the media limelight as he resurrected his career. In a rare 1987 interview with NBC television, Berry declined to describe himself as the father of rock ‘n’ roll, listing others including his contemporary Elvis Presley as well as Fats Domino and Little Richard.

“We’re all I think just a cog in the wheel. We all got the ball rolling,” he said.

Berry late in his life stayed low-profile in St. Louis where he played two decades worth of shows at the Blueberry Club, with his son Charles Berry Jr. in his backup band.

In a surprise, Berry last year celebrated his 90th birthday by announcing that he had recorded his first album in 38 years.

Entitled simply Chuck, the album is slated to be released sometime this year.

In a statement as he announced the album, Berry dedicated it to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry.

My darlin’, I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!

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