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September 22, 2017

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Rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry dies at 90

NEW YORK -- Chuck Berry, one of the creators of rock 'n' roll who helped shape modern youth culture with his dance-ready rhythms but who struggled to overcome institutional racism, died Saturday. 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 answered 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," it said on Facebook.

Berry became a sensation in the years after World War II as the baby boom generation came of age in an increasingly prosperous America. The middle-class son of a carpenter and a high school principal, Berry grew up under segregation but instinctively sensed how to bridge the racial divide.

Berry had played blues guitar but found that his white audience was more interested in country. He merged the styles with an electric energy and consummate stage showmanship, although he hesitated to say that he created rock 'n' roll.

"It used to be called boogie-woogie, it used to be called blues, used to be called rhythm and blues," he later said. "It's called rock now."

Whatever the music was named, Bruce Springsteen, one of many artists heavily influenced by Berry, said the man was indispensable.

"Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived," Springsteen wrote on Twitter.

His 1958 hit "Johnny B. Goode" was so influential and recognizable that the U.S. space program chose it to represent rock music for potential extraterrestrial listeners on the Voyager spacecraft.

Struggles with Racism

"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.

Berry was one of the first African Americans to find a widespread white audience, with his gentle demeanor and the usually innocuous subject matter of his songs initially insulating him in a country where many black people lived under Jim Crow institutionalized racism.

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