Chuck Berry Laid to Rest With Heartfelt Memorial Service, Gene Simmons Gives Surprise Eulogy
The memorial was held at the Pageant, a concert venue just down the street from a lower-level venue, Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, where Berry for years played a monthly show.
On Sunday morning, the Pageant was open from 8AM to noon so fans could have the chance to file past Berry's casket, which was open and featured his red Gibson ES-335 guitar prominently displayed on the back of the lid. Fans started lining up hours before the doors opened, with one, Ray King, arriving at 4AM. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I couldn’t miss out on this chance to be part of something this big,” he told TV station KSDK. “He was such a huge influence in music.”
This public memorial was followed by a private service for friends and family that featured live performances, as well as affectionate, humorous and (at times) tearful speeches from a variety of people who figured in Berry's life. These speakers included Marshall Chess (son of Leonard Chess, founder of Chess Records, Berry's first record label); many of Berry's bandmates from throughout the years; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation president Joel Peresman; and Kiss' Gene Simmons, who had attended the memorial as a fan, weeks after he honored Berry with a cover of "Johnny B. Goode" during his first solo concert. In fact, Simmons' speech was a surprise. "I hadn't planned on coming saying up here and saying anything," he said. "These shades are going to help me a lot, because in the back of them are real tears." Simmons was overcome with emotion during the talk, but drew laughs by mimicking how he started dancing and "jumping up and down" when he first Berry on the radio.
Simmons wasn't the only rock 'n' roller who had a presence at the memorial. David Letterman's band leader Paul Shaffer was in attendance, and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Berry was "right there with the folks who invented rock 'n' roll. Anyone who plays rock 'n' roll was inspired by him." Longtime David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick, who performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Chuck Berry Music Masters Tribute in 2012, was announced as a speaker, but did not take the podium.
And to kick off the memorial, Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay read a letter from former President Bill Clinton. "He is one of America's greatest rock 'n' roll pioneers," the president wrote. "He captivated audiences around the world. His music spoke to the hopes and dreams we all had in common."
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