Chuck Berry and Little Marie

Publicity photo of Chuck Berry
Publicity photo of Chuck Berry (1957) – from eBay

Chuck Berry released in June 1959 a single on Chess Records, with A-side “Back in the U.S.A.” and B-side “Memphis, Tennessee.” In that song, he is speaking to a long-distance telephone operator, asking to find the number of a girl named Marie who tried to phone him from Memphis, Tennessee. He explains that they were separated by her mother who “did not agree / And tore apart our happy home in Memphis, Tennessee.” He finally reveals that Mary is aged six.

Here are a YouTube video of the music and the lyrics from AZLyrics:

Memphis, Tennessee
words & music by Chuck Berry

Long distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee
Help me find the party trying to get in touch with me
She could not leave her number, but I know who placed the call
‘Cause my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall

Help me, information, get in touch with my Marie
She’s the only one who’d phone me here from Memphis, Tennessee
Her home is on the south side, high up on a ridge
Just a half a mile from the Mississippi bridge

Help me, information, more than that I cannot add
Only that I miss her and all the fun we had
But we were pulled apart because her mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis, Tennessee

Last time I saw Marie, she was waving me goodbye
With hurry-home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only 6 years old, information, please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis, Tennessee

The standard interpreation is that Marie is the narrator’s daughter, and her mother his ex-wife. This is confirmed by a second song, “Little Marie,” the A-side of a single released on Chess Records in October 1964, with B-side “Go, Bobby Soxer.” Here he says that “Both are deep within my heart, her Mom and my Marie” and “Maybe that would reunite our home in Tennessee.” Indeed, the family is reconciled: “Then she spoke and asked me to come back and see Marie / And live together in our home in Memphis, Tennessee.”

I give below a YouTube video of the music and the lyrics from Genius:

Little Marie
words & music by Chuck Berry

Yes, oh yes, Long Distance, I’ll accept the charge, I’ll pay
Which loved one is calling me, I did not hear you say
Both are deep within my heart, her Mom and my Marie
It’s so good to hear your voice from Memphis, Tennessee

Oh, you mean so much to me, more than you’ll ever know
Surely, you have not forgot how much I love you so
If you would remember, Dear and sometimes talk to me
Maybe that would reunite our home in Tennessee

Last time I saw you, just before I had to leave
You did not want to see me off and promised not to grieve
My heart was torn apart as I looked back at my Marie
And there the pieces still remain with you in Tennessee

I guess I should stop talking, after all you placed the call
But anyway that I can help, you know I’ll help you all
Then she spoke and asked me to come back and see Marie
And live together in our home in Memphis, Tennessee

Could these two songs be autobiographical? Probably not. Charles Edward Anderson Berry, born on October 18, 1926, married Themetta “Toddy” Suggs on October 28, 1948. Their marriage lasted until his death on March 18, 2017. They had four children: Darlin Ingrid Berry-Clay (born on October 3, 1950), Melody Exes Berry-Eskridge (born on November 1, 1952), Aloha Isa Lei Berry (born on November 10, 1959), and Charles Edward Berry Jr. (born on August 5, 1961). Melody was aged six when he wrote “Memphis, Tennessee,” but if the song was about her, he should also have told about his first daughter Ingrid, then aged eight. And there is no hint of a separation of the couple at that time, they loved each other throughout their wedded life. Chuck Berry’s arrest, which led to his trial and conviction, happened in December 1959, six months after the release of the song, so there is no relation between the song and this affair.

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