LOS ANGELES — There’s just one question about the announcement that Chuck Berry is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s honoree for the 17th installment of its American Music Masters series weeklong tribute and career celebration this fall: How did it possibly take 17 years for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to get to Chuck Berry?
If the pioneering singer, songwriter and guitarist, 85, isn’t the father of rock ‘n’ roll, the burden of proof clearly is on anyone making a case for someone more deserving of the title. Berry was among the inaugural class of 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it opened in 1986, and in the words of Rock Hall President and CEO Terry Stewart in the statement announcing his selection, “Chuck Berry created the language of rock ‘n’ roll. We stand on his foundation and we are thrilled to honor him and welcome him to Cleveland.”
As rock poet, singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen put it earlier this year when he and Berry were selected as the first recipients of PEN New England awards for song lyrics of literary excellence: “If Beethoven hadn’t rolled over, there wouldn’t have been room for any of us. All of us are footnotes to the work of Chuck Berry.”
In any case, Berry’s music will be saluted in “Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry” encompassing a tribute concert at which the man himself is slated to perform Oct. 27 after a week of interviews, panel discussions, films and academic and educational programs. More details are available at the hall’s website; information about the lineup and tickets for the tribute concert will be distributed by way of an e-newsletter.
The American Music Masters series, presented by the Rock Hall in conjunction with Case Western Reserve University, began in 1996 with a program honoring folk music giant Woody Guthrie and has since explored the life and careers of such musicians as Jerry Lee Lewis, Les Paul, Lead Belly, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew.