Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer Memorial Tributes

O
f the ten performers initially inducted in 1986 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard,  Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and James Brown), all but James Brown became superstars to our generation in the 1950s at the very dawn of rock 'n' roll, before our graduation from high school. Sadly, now that Jerry Lee Lewis, the "last man standing," has passed in 2022, they have all gone. But as insightfully predicted by Danny & the Juniors in 1958, their music (our music, that is) "is here to stay; it will never die"!

Beginning with Buddy Holly in 1959, many of the first Hall of Fame inductees had already passed by the time this website was launched in 2000, and the great Ray Charles died in 2004, but beginning in 2014, we have memorialized all of them upon their passings in our Class Newsletter, . Those memorial tributes are repeated below in chronological order.

Along with the few rock 'n' roll icons who passed before them, principally Buddy Holly (in 1959), Bill Haley (in 1981) and, of course, Elvis Presley (in 1977), and countless others who emulated them during the time of our youth, collectively, these giants gave our generation the greatest group gift of our lifetime — our music!

Yes, they are all gone now, but we still remember, and as someone said almost three decades after they gave us this great gift, "the heart of rock and roll is still beatin'" — and it will not be silenced!

A reaction to this page from a friend:

"The music of these giants flavored our lives from jr. high on. The romances we all experienced were played out to their tunes. Love and heartbreak were the fuel of our teenage lives for which we will always be grateful. Any one of their tunes brings up memories both happy and sad — always wonderful!"

— Keith Bearman (formerly Polsley), Oceanside High School, Class of 1962

    


 
 My heartfelt thanks to these legends for such wonderful memories.

 See more about the Everly Brothers below under "BYE, BYE, DON! "


 LegendARY ROCK 'N' ROLL PIONEER, CHUCK BERRY, DEAD AT 90!!  

March 18, 2017: It is with deep sadness that we report the death, at age 90, of one of the most significant rock 'n' roll pioneers of the 1950s, the first singer-songwriter and one of the greatest lyricists and guitar virtuosos of all time, inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1986, and a hero to our generation — the one and only Chuck Berry.

In December 2000, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts gave the now late Chuck Berry, one our generation's heroes, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an entertainer in the USA. We invite you to focus on his remarkable contribution to our generational culture by revisiting our Chuck Berry Kennedy Center Honors page created in 2000 (when this site was still fresh and new) upon the occasion of his receipt of the coveted honor. That page features a link to a video of the event.

Following Berry's passing, several famous successor musicians paid tribute to Berry in a 2020 PBS documentary entitled "Chuck Berry: Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," for example:

  • "One of my big lights has gone out."    Keith Richards
     

  • "Your music is engraved inside us forever."   Mick Jagger
     

  • "Thank you for the poetry, the passion and the potency."   Keith Urban
     

  • "None of us would be here without you."   Lenny Kravitz
     

  • "All of us in rock have now lost our father."  Alice Cooper

And President Obama said, "We'll miss you, Chuck, be good."

 

In 1977, Chuck was honored by the selection of "Johnny B. Goode" by a NASA committee headed by Carl Sagan as the only recording of a contemporary popular song to be included and immortalized on the Voyager spacecraft, now many billions of miles from Earth and traveling at 38,000 mph — waiting to be discovered by some alien life form. A 2017 CBS News report quipped, "Rock and roll may never die."
                         * * * * * *

John Lennon once said, "If you would try to give rock 'n' roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry." So began a movie documentary tribute to Chuck Berry in celebration of his 60th birthday entitled Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll that was released in 1987. It featured a number of brief interviews of other rock 'n' roll giants in commenting about their admiration for him. A couple of notable examples follow:

  • My  favorite song from Chuck is all of 'em. ... He's my favorite rock artist, and he always have [sic] been."    Little Richard

  • "He's the king of rock 'n' roll. ...Chuck Berry is the greatest. He's the Hank Williams of rock 'n' roll."  Jerry Lee Lewis

According to the internet music streaming service, Pandora Radio, (no specific author credit given):

"Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none is more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He is its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, without him there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor a myriad others. There would be no standard 'Chuck Berry guitar intro,' the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have been mainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, the whole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote 'all of the great songs and came up with all the rock & roll beats.' Those who do not claim him as a seminal influence or profess a liking for his music and showmanship show their ignorance of rock's development as well as his place as the music's first great creator. Elvis may have fueled rock & roll's imagery, but Chuck Berry was its heartbeat and original mindset."
  

On October 18, 2016, Chuck Berry turned 90 years of age, and sadly he left us six months later. He brought us all so much joy — and now he is gone. But he left so much for us to treasure and remember him by.

The Class of 1960 offers its sincere thanks to you, Chuck Berry. We are deeply grateful to you for helping to make our teenage years so very special and for entertaining us and keeping us rocking yes, and keeping us young since 1955! 

Chuck, you were the man Ύ  the undisputed grand old man of rock 'n' roll!!  


 FATS DOMINO GONE AT 89!

October 24, 2017: Sadly, we must announce that Antoine "Fats" Domino, another one of the legendary pioneers of our music, died today at age 89. Ain't that a shame!

Second only to Elvis Presley in record sales in the 1950s, this humble, gentle, gracious and talented man with only a fourth grade education left a musical legacy to our generation and those that have or will come later, whose value is clearly immea-surable and that will never be forgotten. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1986.

According to Rolling Stone's comprehensive, online memorial tribute to Fats  (which is among the best of the many you will find online and the source of much of the content of this one),

"Few artists embodied the innocent release and ecstasy of early rock 'n' roll like Fats Domino. He was the music's first piano wizard and a huge influence on generations of musicians."

The rolling motion of his body one observed whenever he performed, coupled with the distinctively rolling rhythms of his New Orleans style of music, truly put the "roll" in rock 'n' roll more than anyone else. Dion DiMucci (of Dion & the Belmonts) spoke of the "rolling sound of his fingers on the piano."

During his 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, Billy Joel said of Fats,

"Traditionally, when people think of rock 'n' roll, they think of the guitar. I want to thank the man who proved that the piano was a rock 'n' roll instrument."

And in the words of contemporary piano greats of Fats' time (and ours), Jerry Lee Lewis said,

"His vocals were phenomenal, and he was a great pianist he had the best raw talent."

Little Richard said,

"I loved him. I loved his piano playing. I love his music, period. ... he could make a piano talk ... he influenced me as an entertainer, period."

In  a  1956    television interview,  Fats  Domino  was asked  about  the  controversy that had developed around rock 'n' roll music. "As  far  as  I  know," he  said,  "the  music makes people happy.It certainly did that for us. And over 60 years later, it still does and always will as long as we live.  So as Fats takes his last walk to join Chuck Berry,  Elvis and the others waiting in rock 'n' roll heaven, we say to him, "You turn to the right; you find a little bright light."


 


LITTLE RICHARD DEAD AT 87!

May 9, 2020: Slightly more or less than three years after the passings of two other giants, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino (respectively, on March 18th and October 24th, 2017), Little Richard, the last of the three legendary founding fathers most responsible for transforming black R&B music into mainstream rock 'n' roll (our music) passed away from bone cancer at his home near Nashville, Tennessee, at age 87.

Just as the Everlys defined and represented the boundary of the soft, sweet romantic side of rock 'n' roll, Richard regularly raised the roof and reached the outer limits of the raw and raucous edge of the wide range of sounds and styles presented to us as kids during its explosive first five years or so.

There are many extensive online accounts of Richard's colorful life and his long, extraordinary career in the revolutionary musical genre he virtually defined. In the words of a NY Times reporter, "screaming as if for his very life, he created something new, thrilling and dangerous."

These online biographical accounts feature the grateful tributes of countless younger artists who followed him. Many of them were heavily influenced, indeed, by Richard for decades, but neither his sound nor his style of performing was ever quite duplicated. He was unique. And not many among our generation can easily forget the shocking feeling of raw and rhythmic, sensual exhilaration that came over us in 1955, when our radios first exploded with

"Wop Bop a Loo Bomp, a Lop Bop Bomp!!"

R.I.P., Richard.


BYE, BYE, DON!

August 21, 2021: One of the last surviving rock 'n' roll pioneers and musical heroes of our generation is gone at age 84, 6⅟2 years after his younger brother, Phil in 2014. (See 2014 memorial tribute to Phil, above.) It all goes for both of them; they were a team, and as such, they were charter inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

The sweet sound of Everly Brothers harmonies will never be forgotten ─ and it will never be duplicated. They were indisputably among the finest and most memorable duos in rock 'n' roll.

May the brothers rest in peace together in rock 'n' roll heaven. So sad.
 


Jerry Lee Lewis (the "Killer") is dead at 87!

October 28, 2022: Once again, it saddens me greatly to report the passing today of my very favorite musical entertainer of all time, Jerry Lee Lewis, whom we lovingly called the "Killer." Two days after a premature and erroneous report of his death followed almost immediately by an unprecedented number of media corrections announcing that "the Killer is ALIVE!," he finally succumbed to his poor health today at his home near Memphis. His personal life and career were filled with controversy and scandal, irreverence and turmoil.

Known primarily for his incredible and unique, self-taught piano playing, his unbelievable energy, sensuality, showmanship and his enormous ego, the Killer, who never learned how to read music, nevertheless was one of the greatest musicians of our time. He was the very definition of everything that was rock 'n' roll — our music. No adjectives such as outrageous, iconic or legendary were strong enough to adequately describe him. He even played the piano with his feet and with his ass.

Back in 1957, when I first heard "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," I thought no one would ever top that. But soon afterwards, along came "Great Balls of Fire," which totally blew me away! In my opinion, it remains to this day the greatest rock 'n' roll record ever made!

The last time I saw Jerry Lee perform in person, he was in his late 70s. He was wearing a back brace and could barely step up to the piano. But when his magical fingers hit the keyboard, they were 21 years old — and electrifying! He definitely was one of a kind. There will never be another.

Equally talented and comfortable with all kinds of music other than rock 'n' roll, such as R&B, blues, gospel, pop and country, at long last, just before his death he was finally honored with his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Decades previously, in 1986, he was, of course, among the inaugural class of inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, all of whose members are sadly now gone. As he often prophetically proclaimed himself in recent years, the Killer eventually was, in fact, "the last man standing"! 

There are many extensive biographical obituaries and celebrity tributes to this remarkable entertainer online. One of the best appeared three days after his death and was written by Cameron B. Gunnoe in a rather obscure online music newsletter, CultureSonar. Among other things, it says:

"To undertake the delineation of Jerry Lee Lewis’ influence on popular music as it is known today would be akin to explaining the impact of the internal combustion engine as it pertains to large-scale commerce. There is simply so much to unpack that words cease to do justice to the notion."

There are also many hours of JLL's performances over the last 66 years online, for example, on YouTube, many of which are of the Killer's unique versions of other people's music of many types, including many songs you've never heard before, for example, this 1983 star-studded TV salute to the Killer hosted by the now late Dick Clark online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tOUwcowqjc. But they are all wonderful! Google them, and set aside some time to watch, listen and, of course, enjoy.


  

Copyright © 2014, 2017 and 2020-2022 by Howard B. Levy and 1960 Sailors Association Inc. All rights reserved.