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 also pointed out Berry's place as a low-key pioneer of the civil rights movement. "Although I never heard Chuck talk about it in his lyrics, or in interviews, or on television, he was breaking down barriers that nobody suspected," he said. "Chuck, he changed more little white boys' and white girls' lives than all the politicians with their big talk and stuff, just by making them move like this." Simmons hopped around at the podium, like he did when referring to his childhood. "Without Chuck Berry, I wouldn't be here," he added a few sentences later. To the amusement of the audience, Simmons shortly thereafter did a quick duck walk, Berry's signature move. "When I saw that--Moonwalk, get out of here with that stuff," he said. "When I saw that [duck walk], I went, 'What is that?'"
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.
A speaker read condolences from those who were unable to attend. First up was Paul McCartney, who sent his regrets for being unable to make the ceremony and thanked Berry's family for the "kind invitation" to the services. "As you probably know, Chuck was a huge influence on me and my companions. and I will always remain a great fan of his wonderful music." Next up, the speaker noted that Little Richard was slated to be at the service but couldn't attend due to illness, but also sent his "heartfelt condolences." The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, sent a bouquet of flowers shaped like a guitar, with a card reading, "Thank you for the inspiration. With fondest memories, Keith, Mick, Charlie and Ronnie. The Rolling Stones."
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."
Celebration of Life for Chuck Berry ends A post shared by Kevin Johnson (@kevincjohnson) on
Rock's Most Famous Graves