ST. LOUIS — As the private service for Chuck Berry began Sunday afternoon, the Rev. Alex I. Peterson told the crowd that the famed Pageant concert hall would, for the day, become a house of worship.
“We are going to celebrate him in a rock ‘n’ roll style. We’re not going to sit here and be sad,” Peterson said.
Hundreds of friends and family said goodbye to Berry, passing by his open coffin inside the Pageant, some arriving as early as 5 a.m.
“He looks real good,” said Diane Walton of Sikeston, Mo., as she looked down at the music legend. “I’d always wanted to see him in person, but this is the only chance I got.”
As fans stood in line for the public viewing, they shared their memories of listening to Berry’s music. Often they were recollections of his frequent concerts at the Duck Room in Blueberry Hill, the restaurant in the Delmar Loop.
Dexter Louden was the set-up guy for Berry’s 200 shows at the Duck Room, making sure everything was working properly and Berry had everything he needed.
“I always brought him chicken wings and orange juice before the show,” said Louden, of Berkeley, Mo.
Sitting through all the shows, “I knew every string, every instrument, every chord,” Louden said. “He was a character.”
Frances Johnson, the widow of Johnnie Johnson, Berry’s legendary sideman, was among those attending the service.
“My head and my heart is with the grieving family,” she said.
Paul Shaffer, former band leader for David Letterman, said Berry was “right there with the folks who invented rock ‘n’ roll. Anyone who plays rock ‘n’ roll was inspired by him.”
Lovey Davis, of St. Louis, said she was at the viewing to represent Sumner High School, from which she and Berry graduated.
“He’s part of our family,” Davis said, standing in line with her sister Nancy Davis.
Ron Hoskin of St. Louis was in line on behalf of his son Shawn.
“He has Down syndrome, and he loves music, especially Chuck Berry,” Hoskin said. As a present for his son’s 27th birthday, the two men went to see Berry perform at the Duck Room.
In the concert hall, a red electric guitar hung from the lid of the mahogany coffin above Berry, who was in a white suit, purple sequined shirt and his trademark captain’s hat. Several family members were either dressed in purple or wore purple accents.
Berry died March 18 at his home near Wentzville, Mo. He was 90. The singer, songwriter and guitarist – behind hits such as “Maybellene,” “My Ding-a-Ling,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and his signature “Johnny B. Goode” – was born in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis.