ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - An eight-foot statue of rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry was approved on Monday over the opposition of some local residents including one who said the Hall of Fame singer/songwriter should not be honored because he is a “felon and not a friend of women.”
The University City council, which has jurisdiction over the spot where the statue is to be installed, rejected a last-minute petition drive by opponents, who gathered 100 signatures in a bid to block or delay the statue.
The leader of the opposition, Elsie Glickert, an 86-year-old former city council member, said the city had ignored procedure in allowing the statue to be built on a new public bikeway that intersects the Delmar Loop, a strip of restaurants, shops and clubs that includes Blueberry Hill, where Berry has played over 160 shows in past 15 years.
The owner of the club, Joe Edwards, helped raise over $100,000 in private funding for the statue, which depicts a young Berry wailing away on his guitar. The plaza where the statue is going be installed will also feature illuminated walls with laser-engraved musical notes of “Johnny B. Goode,” Berry’s signature 1957 hit. Concrete strips in the sidewalk will be etched with the lyrics of Berry songs.
Edwards said the statue would be installed later this week and dedicated at a July 29 ceremony that will feature an appearance by the 84-year-old Berry.
Glickert said at a well-attended council meeting that the statue should not be placed on public property because of Berry’s past convictions. She said the statue was the result of “our previous dysfunction city management” and should be delayed for a full legal review.
Others in the audience supported the statue, including Edwards, who praised Berry as St. Louis’s “most famous musical native son, who through his music changed race relations and culture around the world.”
Berry’s early career has been credited with shaping the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. He was recognized by the U.S. government with the Kennedy Center Award in 2000 and is a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
No formal vote was taken, but a majority of the members spoke in favor of the installation. Mayor Shelley Welsch said it would be an “appropriate, positive” addition to the strip.
Glickert and her supporters opposed the statue because of Berry’s 1962 conviction for violating the Mann Act, accused of transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes.
“This man is a felon and not a friend of women. It is a misuse of tax dollars to honor him on public property,” Glickert said.
At a show in Texas in 1959, Berry met a young Native American woman who came to work at his St. Louis club, was fired and then arrested on a prostitution charge.
That led to the conviction and he spent three years in prison, where he penned several hits while incarcerated including “No Particular Place to Go.”
Berry had more trouble in 1979 when he was convicted of tax evasion. He had been convicted of armed robbery as a teenager.
Berry performs to sold out shows at Blueberry Hill every month. He collapsed during a show in Chicago on New Year’s Day but recovered in time to play his next show in St. Louis.
Editing by Peter Bohan