Chuck Berry was laid to rest Sunday following a pair of memorials in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. The music legend died March 18th at the age of 90.
Early Sunday morning, hundreds of fans began lining up outside the city’s Pageant venue for a four-hour public viewing of Berry, who was dressed in a white suit, purple sequined shirt and iconic Captain’s hat accompanied by his red Gibson ES-335 guitar.
A guitar-shaped floral arrangement, sent from the Rolling Stones, resided next to Berry’s casket, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. “Thank you for the inspiration. With fondest memories, Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie, the Rolling Stones,” the card’s inscription read.
— Kevin C. Johnson (@kevincjohnson) April 9, 2017
Hundreds of fans also queued for a chance to receive one of 300 tickets to join Berry’s friends, family and fellow musicians at the private ceremony later that afternoon at the same venue.
Following the viewing, the private “Celebration of Life” service was held, with Kiss‘ Gene Simmons, former Late Show bandleader Paul Shaffer and Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records co-founder Leonard Chess, among those paying their respects to Berry.
The service opened with Missouri congressman William Lacy Clay reading remarks written by former president Bill Clinton, who recruited Berry to perform at both of his presidential inaugurations.
“He is one of America’s greatest rock & roll pioneers,” Clinton wrote. “He captivated audiences around the world. His music spoke to the hopes and dreams we all had in common. Me and Hillary grew up listening to him.”
Simmons, who didn’t plan on speaking at the service, took the podium to thank Berry, “Without Chuck Berry I wouldn’t be here and everything that came, that became this huge thing called rock & roll started with a guy who just wanted to make people feel good and forget about the traffic jams of the world and everything,” an emotional Simmons said.
“He was breaking down barriers that no one suspected. Chuck, he changed more little white boys’ and white girls’ lives than all the politicians and their talk,” the Kiss bassist added. “Maybe Chuck said it best: ‘Roll over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news.’ Buckle your knees, bow your head, the great Chuck Berry is passing by.”
Shaffer credited Berry as the man “who invented rock & roll,” while Rock and Roll Hall of Fame president Joel Peresman acknowledged that “from the first brick, everything that was built was based on Chuck Berry,” who was among the Rock Hall’s first inductees.
Letters of tribute penned by Paul McCartney – “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,” he wrote – and Little Richard were also read to mourners.
Within the “Celebration of Life” program, Themetta “Toddy” Berry, Chuck’s wife of 68 years, penned a letter to her late husband:
There’s a lovely letter to Chuck Berry from his wife in the program. pic.twitter.com/6npVSYVOoz
— Kelsey Landis (@kelseylandis) April 9, 2017
Among the performers at the Berry memorial included Johnny Rivers, who had hits in the early Sixties with covers of Berry’s “Memphis” and “Maybellene” and played “Blue Suede Shoes” at the service, two of Berry’s grandchildren and some members of Berry’s backing band, including Billy Peek, who doled out “Johnny B. Goode.”
Additional reporting by Joel Peresman