Berry, born Charles Edward Anderson Berry, met a young native American woman named Janice Escalanti on December 1, while playing a show in El Paso, Texas.
Escalanti, who was originally from Yuma, Arizona, allegedly took a job with Chuck Berry, working as a hat check girl in Club Bandstand, a popular integrated club in Saint Louis that Berry had opened two years earlier.
She was fired after two weeks and began soliciting sex in a local hotel. After some time, she called the Yuma police seeking a way to get home, leading to Berry being accused of violating The Mann Act.
The legendary singer was put on trial again in October of 1961 and Judge Roy W. Harper sentenced him to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine for being “intimate” with the young girl in four states.
Upon his release from prison in October of 1963, Berry found that the musical landscape had changed. The British Invasion sparked a renewed interest in his music. The Rolling Stones’ first single was a cover of Berry’s track “Come On.”
Berry went right back to making hits, releasing hit records like “Nadine,” “No Particular Place to Go” and “You Never Can Tell.” ).
This was not Berry’s first run in with the law. In 1944, the singer and two companions were arrested and found guilty of armed robbery during a joy ride to Kansas City.
All three were sentenced to 10 years in a boys reformatory, but Chuck Berry was released just three years later in 1947.
From 1947 until 1955, Berry worked several jobs, engaged in a boxing career, worked as a photographer, studied to become a hairdresser and then finally, started his career in music as a member of Sir John’s Trio.
Berry became one of the top R&B acts in the region, rivaled only by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm.
During a 1954 trip to Chicago, Berry had a 2-minute conversation with Muddy Waters, who recommended that he go see Leonard Chess, proprietor of legendary label Chess Records.
Chess was impressed with a composition Berry had written titled “Ida May” and recorded Berry singing it with the new name “Maybellene.” The song sold over a million copies and shot to #1 on the R&B chart and #5 on the pop charts.
Since then, Berry has become legendary for songs like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “School Days,” “Oh Baby Doll,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Merry Christmas Baby” and others.
“To me, Chuck Berry always was the epitome of rhythm and blues playing, rock and roll playing. It was beautiful, effortless, and his timing was perfection,” Rolling Stones founder Keith Richards said of Berry. “He is rhythm supreme. He plays that lovely double-string stuff, which I got down a long time ago, but I’m still getting the hang of.”
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