Charles was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Henry William Berry and Martha Bell Banks. He was the fourth child of six. On October 28, 1948, he married Themetta "Toddy" Suggs. They had daughter, Darlin Ingrid Berry on October 3, 1950.
Charles was found unresponsive in his home in St. Charles County, Missouri on March 18, 2017. He was pronounced dead at the scene, aged 90.
In 1944, he was arrested for armed robbery of three shops in Kansas City, Missouri and then stealing a car at gunpoint. Charles's account of the incident was different than what was actually stated. He was convicted and sent to the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa, near Jefferson City. While there he formed a singing quartet and did some boxing. He was released on his 21st birthday.
In December 1959, he was arrested under the Mann Act after allegations that he had sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old Apache waitress, Janice Escalante, whom he transported across state lines to work as a hatcheck girl at his club. After a two-week trial in March 1960, he was convicted, fined $5,000, and sentenced to five years in prison. He appealed the decision, arguing that the judge's comments and attitude were racist and prejudiced the jury against him. The appeal was upheld and a second trial was heard in May and June of 1961, resulting in another conviction and a three year prison sentence. After another appeal failed, Berry served one and half years in prison, from February 1962 to October 1963.
Charles's first performance was in 1941 while he was still in high school. While in the Reformatory, the quartet was allowed to perform outside the walls. In the early 1950's, Charles was working with local bands in clubs in St. Louis as an extra source of income.
In May of 1955, Charles traveled to Chicago to meet Muddy Waters. It was Waters that suggested he contact Leonard Chess, of Chess Records. On May 21, 1955, Charles recorded an adaptation of the song "Ida Red", under the title "Maybellene", with Johnnie Johnson on the piano, Jerome Green on the maracas, Jasper Thomas on the drums, and Willie Dixon on the bass. "Maybellene" sold over a million copies, reaching number one on Billboard magazine's rhythm and blues chart and number five on its Best Sellers in Stores chart for September 10, 1955.
At the end of June 1956, his song "Roll Over Beethoven" reached number 29 on the Billboard Top 100 chart and Charle's toured as one of the "Top Acts of "56". In late 1957, Charles took part of Alan Freed's "Biggest Show of Stars for 1957". He toured the States with the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and others. The hits continued from 1957 to 1959 with songs such as "School Days", "Rock and Roll Music", "Sweet Little Sixteen", and "Johnny B Goode". He appeared in two early rock and roll movies: Rock Rock Rock(1956) and Go, Johnny, Go!(1959) in which he sang "You Can't Catch Me" and "Johnny B Goode" respectively.
When Charles began recording again in 1963, his return was made easier by the British invasion bands, notably the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This was due to each of the bands releasing cover versions of Berry's songs. The Beach Boys' 1963 hit "Surfin' U.S.A." used the melody of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". In 1964 and 1965, Charles released eight singles, including three that were commercially successful: "No Particular Place to Go", "You Never Can Tell", and "Nadine". Between 1966 and 1969, Charles released five albums for Mercury Records, including his first live album, Live at Fillmore Auditorium in which he was backed by the Steve Miller Band.
Charles continued to work up until his death in 2017. His first new studio album since Rock It in 1979 would be released. This record would include his children, Charles Berry Jr and Ingrid on guitar and harmonica, with songs "covering the spectrum from hard-driving rockers to soulful thought-provoking time capsules of a life's work". The album was dedicated to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry.
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