Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missourie to Martha and Henry Berry. His mother Martha was a schoolteacher, and his father Henry was a contractor and a Deacon of the local Antioch Baptist Church. The Berry's lived in an area just north of downtown St. Louis called the Ville which was one of the few areas in the city where Blacks of that time could own property, and hence was considered one of the most prestigous areas in the city for a black family to live. Berry attended Simmons grade school and Sumner High School, the first Black high school west of the Mississippi. Fellow graduates of Sumner High School include Arthur Ashe, Tina Turner, Robet Guillaume, Dick Gregory, and Robert McFerrin.
Before graduating from high school Berry had his first encounter with the law. While on a joy ride with some friends in Kansas City he and two other companions were arrested and charged with armed robbery. Each were found guitly and sentenced to 10 years in the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa, near Jefferson Missouri. While in prison Berry kept himself occupied by joining a Gospel group and boxing. He was released from prison on his 21st birthday in 1947.
A year later he married Themetta Suggs. Between 1948 and 1955 Berry worked at a number of different jobs including that of Janitor at the Fisher Body auto assembly plant. He trained to be a hairdresser at the Poro School, freelanced as a photographer, assisted his father, and started his career as a musician. On New Years Eve in 1952 he was asked to join the Sir Johns Trio which included pianist Johnnie Johnson, and drummer Ebby Hardy. Berry's showmanship added enormously to the band and before very long he had taken over the band and was competing with Ike Turner, and Albert King as the one of the most artists in the St. Louis area.