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Chu Berry


Musician Leon ‘‘Chu’’ Berry (September 13, 1910-October 30, 1941) was born in Wheeling. He was one of the most highly regarded saxophonists of the Swing Era, ranking alongside Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young in the opinion of many jazz critics. He was inspired to take up tenor sax after Hawkins played in Wheeling with Fletcher Henderson’s pioneer big band. At West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), Berry performed with the Edwards Collegians and other regional groups.

Known for his full tone, breath control, and fleet playing on up-tempo numbers, Berry performed and recorded with major artists such as Henderson, Bessie Smith, Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, and Roy Eldridge throughout the 1930s. He spent his last four years in Cab Calloway’s big band alongside young trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. After gigs, Berry and Gillespie joined the late-night jammers who gave birth to the new bebop style. Berry’s more famous solos include records of Ghost Of A Chance with Calloway, Hot Mallets with Lionel Hampton, and On the Sunny Side of the Street with his own orchestra. He died at age 31 in a car crash near Conneaut, Ohio, while on the road with the Calloway band.

In 2007, Berry was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

Written by John Douglas