Today is the third day of Black History Month. Over the course of the month, I’ll spend some time paying tribute to Black artists across a wide and diverse array of genres and styles. My hope is that these posts should serve as an important reminder that the Black experience is the American experience, that Black culture is American culture — and importantly, Black lives and Black art matter. You can’t love Black art and Black artists without giving a shit about Black people.
This month won’t be a comprehensive study of Black music. It’ll be more idiosyncratic because — well, JOVM after all. Now, if you’ve been following this site, you may recall that so far I’ve paid tribute to Chaka Khan, the Reverend Al Green, The Whispers, and Rick James, Aretha Franklin, Sylvester and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Logically, I have to follow Sister Rosetta Tharpe with none other than the legendary Chuck Berry. If there’s one thing to remember about Chuck Berry it’s this: his work is appears on the Voyager Golden Records, as the paradigm of human creativity and ingenuity, along with Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky. Yes, my man Chuck is that fucking important. And if you don’t believe it, check out the photos Motörhead‘s Lemmy Kilmister took with Chuck — you can tell that that Lemmy idolized him. The Beatles loved Chuck. The Rolling Stones‘ Keith Richards credits Chuck in getting him to pick up the guitar. The Beach Boys‘ Brian Wilson reworked — uh, borrowed — elements of “Sweet Little Sixteen” for “Surfin’ USA.” And I can think of so much more.
So the next time you pick up a Beatles album, a Stones album, an AC/DC album, a Motörhead album, an Elvis album, a Bob Dylan album, or any other rock album in the past 70 years, thank my man Chuck. It wouldn’t be possible without him. Long live, Chuck Berry, the king of rock ‘n’ roll!