Chuck Berry
Guitarist and singer Chuck Berry's output from 1955 to 1965 includes some of the earliest classics in rock history, from "Maybellene" and "Rock 'n' Roll Music" to "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Johnny B. Goode." Berry began playing professionally in St. Louis in the early 1950s. His 1955 hit "Maybellene" made him a national star, and he followed with a string of hit records that appealed to both black and white audiences. His career was briefly derailed in the early 1960s, when he ran afoul of the law and ended up spending three years in prison. He bounced back with new recordings and performances, but his best years seemed behind him. Ironically, Berry's biggest hit came in 1972, a live recording of the innuendo-heavy novelty song, "My Ding-a-Ling." In addition to his status as a rock legend, Berry earned a reputation for unpredictable performances, erratic behavior and legal troubles (he was sentenced to more jail time in 1979 for tax evasion). Like his contemporary Little Richard, Berry is an African-American whose influence on rock 'n' roll was overshadowed by the popularity of white artists such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Nonetheless, he is recognized as one of the founders of rock 'n' roll music.