St. Louisans, family gather to say goodbye to Chuck Berry | Music

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Updated with quotes from the private service.

ST. LOUIS • Inside The Pageant concert hall, the late Chuck Berry was remembered on Sunday for changing the music landscape and keeping his worldwide fame clearly planted in his hometown.

“He is one of America’s greatest rock and roll pioneers,” former President Bill Clinton said in a letter read by U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay. “He captivated audiences around the world. His music spoke to the hopes and dreams we all had in common. Me and Hillary grew up listening to him.” Berry played at both of Clinton’s inaugurations.

As the private service for Berry got underway after a morning of public viewing, the Rev. Alex I. Peterson told the crowd that the famed Pageant would, for the day, become a house of worship.

“We are going to celebrate him in a rock’n’roll style. We’re not going to sit here and be sad,” Peterson said.

St. Louis Mayor-elect Lyda Krewson, an alderman representing the area of the Pageant, read a proclamation from Francis Slay, who is winding down his fourth term as mayor.

The proclamation credited Berry with never straying far from home by keeping his residence in the area, near Wentzville, and for continually showing his love for St. Louis by performing regularly at the Duck Room, a small venue inside Blueberry Hill restaurant.

“His Duck Room shows brought thousands to the (Delmar) Loop and they came back and they came back,” Krewson said, referring to the popular entertainment strip that runs through University City and St. Louis.

Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, presented a proclamation on behalf of the board, crediting Berry for helping put St. Louis on the map.

Billy Peek, a longtime Berry musician, struggled through tears as he referred to Berry as his idol, friend and mentor.

“I was always proud I was considered his mentee,” Peek said. “Everything that happened good to me musically goes back to Chuck Berry.”

Berry recorded on Chess Records. Marshall Chess, whose father, Leonard, co-founded the record label, recounted his dad’s stories about Berry including when those at the label heard Berry’s “Maybelline” for the first time.

“That was the beginning of rock and roll. Make no doubt about it. He was not only the father of rock and roll but he changed the world,” Chess said.

Little Richard, who was initially scheduled to appear, sent his condolences. A message was read from Paul McCartney, who apologized for not being able to attend but thanked Berry for his contributions to music. Gene Simmons attended the service, standing in the back of the hall.

Musician and singer Daryl Davis is one of many musicians who got to know Berry and his music by performing with him.

“A lot of people can say they play music. A lot of people can say they wrote a song. Very few people can say they created a genre of music, Davis said.”Chuck Berry was a genius and he created a genre of music.”

Hundreds of friends and family said goodbye to Berry on Sunday, passing by his open casket, some arriving as early as 5 a.m.

“He looks real good,” said Diane Walton, 55, of Sikeston, Mo., as she looked down at the music legend. “I’d always wanted to see him in person, but this is the only chance I got.” Growing up, she would see him and other stars such as Tina Turner perform on TV, and wonder what it would be like to see them perform live.

As fans stood in line for the public viewing, . Oftentimes, they were recollections of his frequent concerts at the Duck Room.

Dexter Louden was the set-up guy for Berry’s 200 shows at the Duck Room, making sure everything was working properly and Berry had everything he needed.

“I always brought him chicken wings and orange juice before the show,” said Louden, 60, of Berkeley.

Sitting through all the shows, “I knew every string, every instrument, every chord,” Louden said. “He was a character.”

Frances Johnson, the widow of Johnnie Johnson, Berry’s legendary sideman, was among those who showed up at the Pageant for the service.

“My head and my heart is with the grieving family,” she said.

Paul Shaffer, former band leader for David Letterman, created a buzz upon his arrival prior to the service as his made his way through the crowed looking for his VIP credentials. 

He said that Berry was “right there with the folks who invented rock and roll. Anyone who plays rock and roll was inspired by him.”

Lovey Davis, 53, of St. Louis, said she was at the viewing to represent Sumner High School, which she and Berry both graduated from.

“He’s part of our family,” Davis said, standing in line with her sister Nancy Davis, 58. The sister broke into a brief rendition of “Maybelline,” one of Berry’s biggest hits.

Ron Hoskin, 52, of St. Louis, was in line on behalf of his son Shawn, 32. 

“He has Down syndrome, and he loves music, especially Chuck Berry,” Hoskin said. As a present for his son’s 27th birthday, the two men went to see Berry perform at the Duck Room. 

As the line moved steadily, security was tight. Guards wanded fans as they entered, and the crowd was repeatedly told: “No photos allowed.” 

The line wrapped around the side of the Pageant, but was moving smoothly through the morning. The line closed at 11:30 a.m., about a half hour before the public viewing ended. A second line was then formed to get one of up to 300 tickets for the private service, which was to have begun at 1 p.m.

Visitors filing through the concert hall for three and half hours Sunday morning were encouraged to sign one of three guest books set up at the entrance. 

Berry’s casket sat on the floor of the concert hall, just in front of the stage, flanked by large sprays of flowers including one in the shape of a guitar, sent by The Rolling Stones. A red electric guitar hung from the lid of the mahogany casket above Berry, who was in a white suit, purple sequined shirt and his trademark captain’s hat. Several family members were either dressed in purple or wore purple accents.

Joe Edwards who owns the Pageant and Blueberry Hill, arrived for the service in a navy pinstripe suit with red sequined shirt. He said he bought the shirt 25 years ago but had never worn it until Sunday, knowing that it would someday be a fitting tribute when he said goodbye to his longtime friend for the last time. 

On Saturday, Edwards led a gathering at Blueberry Hill to toast Berry and his life.

Berry . He was 90. The singer, songwriter and guitarist — behind hits such as “Maybellene,” “My Ding-a-Ling,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and his signature “Johnny B. Goode” — was born Oct. 18, 1926, in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis.

This article will be updated throughout the day as events continue.

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