Why is Chuck Berry often considered the most important of the early Rock and Rollers?
“If you tried to give Rock and Roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'”
-- John Lennon
Chuck Berry burst onto the Rock and Roll scene in 1955 with the release of “Maybellene” on Chess Records. It shot to No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B chart and No. 5 on the Pop chart, establishing Berry as an artist with appeal to black and white audiences alike. By the end of the decade, Berry had released a string of iconic songs – “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Schools Days,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Back in the U.S.A." – that would be covered by everyone from the Beach Boys to the Grateful Dead. Distinct from Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino – all piano players – Berry was a guitar player whose guitar was a central component of his recordings. Gone were the horns, central to much R&B, and gone was the piano as focal point. Guitar-based Rock and Roll had its founding father.
In this lesson, students will analyze several of the elements that combined to make Berry such an important and influential artist. They will examine his pioneering guitar riffs, his carefully crafted lyrics that spoke directly to the emerging market of white, middle-class teen listeners, his blend of R&B and Country and Western influences, and his energetic performance style, which helped pave the way for a generation of guitar-playing showmen.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
"There's only one true king of Rock and Roll. His name is Chuck Berry."
-- Stevie Wonder
"If you tried to give Rock and Roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"
-- John Lennon
"There's not a lot of other ways to play Rock and Roll other than the way Chuck plays it; he's really laid the law down."
-- Eric Clapton
"Chuck Berry is the greatest of the rock and rollers."
-- Music critic Robert Christgau
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
Writing 5: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
Writing 8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Speaking and Listening 5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.