Celebrating Chuck Berry with song

Musician Billy Peek (right) performing Johnny B. Goode during a memorial for Chuck Berry, who was laid out with his Gibson guitar in St Louis on Sunday.
Musician Billy Peek (right) performing Johnny B. Goode during a memorial for Chuck Berry, who was laid out with his Gibson guitar in St Louis on Sunday.PHOTO: NYTIMES

ST LOUIS (Missouri) • At first, the funeral for rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry followed a traditional church service format.

Then Billy Peek pulled out his guitar and belted Johnny B. Goode.

Peek, a local blues musician who had played alongside Berry for decades, earned loud cheers from the roughly 1,000 mourners. Many rose to their feet and danced as he mimicked Berry's deep-squat strut, known as the duck walk.

Berry died on March 18 of natural causes at age 90.

The four-hour funeral on Sunday afternoon honoured a musician who helped forge rock 'n' roll, but never moved away from his hometown and continued playing gigs there until he was in his late 80s.

Berry was laid out in a mahogany coffin and dressed in a vintage glittery purple shirt, a white jacket and a sea captain's hat. His red Gibson guitar rested on the white inner lining of the coffin lid.

The service included laudatory letters from former Beatle Paul McCartney, singer Little Richard, the Smithsonian Institution and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

A statement from former United States president Bill Clinton was read. He praised the musician as a uniter.

Gene Simmons of Kiss, who was in St Louis for a comic-book convention, attended the service and took the stage for impromptu remarks.

He said he was riveted by Berry's music when he was an eight-yearold newcomer to the US from Israel.

"He changed more little white boys' and girls' lives than all the politicians by making them move like this," Simmons said as he gyrated at the podium.

After the service, the family departed for a private burial.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Celebrating Chuck Berry with song'. Print Edition | Subscribe