Chuck Berry Praises Obama, Laments Fading Health

'My singing days have passed,' he says at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Chuck Berry
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum/Janet Macoska
Chuck Berry performs during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's American Music Masters tribute concert honoring Chuck Berry.
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Today, Chuck Berry made a rare move: he gave an interview. Visiting Cleveland to accept the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters Award, the 86-year-old met with journalists at the museum’s offices before touring an exhibit celebrating his life.

Seated in the center of a conference table between friend Joe Edwards and his son Charles Berry Jr., wearing a captain's hat and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame varsity jacket, Berry was humble, revealing and playful. "Now let me make a statement," he said at the beginning. "After being before drums for 48 years, it has taken effect in the last four months and I have a strange hiccup that comes out every time I tell the truth." The room erupted in laughter. 

At one point, Rolling Stone asked Berry how far the country has come since the days he played segregated venues throughout the South. Berry paused for a moment. "I never thought that a man with the qualities, features, and all that he has, [could] be our President," he said. "My dad said, 'You may not live to see that day,' and I believed him. I thank God that I have." Berry stopped for several seconds while his eyes welled up. "Excuse me," he said.

The most moving moment came when Berry discussed his own future. Explaining that he doesn't hear well, Berry turned to his friend Edwards. "If you don’t mind, Joe, explaining [questions] to me, because I am hearing very little. I’m wondering about my future," he said, raising his finger. "That’s news!"

Berry was asked to expand. "Well, I’ll give you a little piece of poetry," he said. "Give you a song? I can’t do that. My singing days have passed. My voice is gone. My throat is worn. And my lungs are going fast.  I think that explains it."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Kevin C. Johnson argued that people still pay to see Berry monthly at St. Louis’ Blueberry Hill. "I’ll tell you what that is," Berry said. "They’re having a great time from memory. And I hope that I can continue to enhance their memory because it looks very dim, like I said, you know."