Everyone measures success differently. In today’s society, many determine success by the amount of money they have accumulated. Others view their accomplishments on how well they raised their family as their biggest triumph. However, when you are a child still in school, you are judged often by the grades you earned in your classes.
Parents often wonder what type of life their kid will have if they are struggling so mightily in school. What does the future hold when they can’t even get a passing grade? For these famous musicians, life actually turned out pretty well regardless of their lack of school achievement.
Perhaps the most iconic musician ever, Elvis Presley had extremely humble beginnings. Born in a two room shack to his parents Vernon and Gladys, his birth was paid for by public aid. His twin brother Jesse died at birth, leaving Elvis an only child to a protective mother.
School did not come easy to Elvis. His family often moved around from one place to another because of the inability to pay their bills. He was seen as an awkward kid by the time he entered high school, often getting picked on by others for the way he dressed or styled his hair. His one true love was music, and he held onto a dream that one day he would make his living in this field. However, not everybody was quite as encouraging.
His high school music teacher informed him, unkindly, that he just did not have any talent for singing. “I wasn’t popular in school … I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this talent show … when I came onstage I heard people kind of rumbling and whispering and so forth, ’cause nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how popular I became after that.” Presley eventually learned how to play the guitar and the piano by ear, unable to read the music. He was only 19 years old when he recorded his first hit single “That’s All Right” at the local music studio Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.
Known for his guitar playing and being able to write some of the biggest hits of early rock and roll, Chuck Berry’s life didn’t start off that special. He lived with his parents and five brothers and sisters in St. Louis, Missouri, in a middle-class setting. He taught himself how to play the guitar in junior high school, sang in the church choir, and joined the school glee club.
But he decided a bit later that school just wasn’t for him. He didn’t like the discipline, was not interested in studying, and felt like he didn’t fit in with the school crowd. In fact, he made the horrible decision to run away from home with a couple friends while he was in high school. They happened to “find” a pistol in an empty parking lot and proceeded to rob a few businesses before they were eventually arrested. Berry lucked out and only had to serve three years in a reform school.
He worked here and there as a carpenter, and then later on became a hair stylist not long after he had married. Still playing guitar and trying his hand at writing songs, Berry contacted Chess Records in Chicago, Illinois. After just a couple months, his first hit song “Maybellene” became well known all over the country. This was just the beginning of many hits and an active music career that lasted over 60 years.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Considered by many to be the greatest composer of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven wasn’t so highly thought of early in life. Born on December 16, 1770, he later became an amazing pianist, violinist, and an innovative composer that combined vocals and instruments. However, his musical talent was sometimes beat into him by his alcoholic father. Neighbors could recall young Ludwig playing the piano as his father angrily watched, ready to hit him if there were any mistakes or hesitations.
The young prodigy attended a Latin grade school where most considered him to be a below average student. There were not any signs of his musical creativity. In fact, he struggled mightily with his spelling and reading. His math skills were so poor, he lamented later in life that he was a business failure because he could not master his numbers. At the age of ten, he left school and started only studying music.
As the years went by, he would study music with the masters of his time. He became most famous for his nine symphonies. By the age of 30, he realized his hearing was fastly fading. However, some of his greatest works were composed when he was entirely deaf later on in life. He had created masterpieces that he himself could not hear.
Jerry Lee Lewis
As brilliant as he is crazy, Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the most influential piano players of all time. Born in 1935, he started teaching himself how to play the piano by the age of nine. He mimicked the musicians he would see around Louisiana, copying their piano playing and singing style.
He was able to create uptempo tunes while expressing his innovative style by playing his music so flamboyantly. By the age of ten, his family knew that he was becoming something special. They mortgaged their family farm to buy him his own piano. His first well-known public performance was at the age of fourteen at the opening of a local car dealership. He wowed the crowd with his expert playing. During this time, he was not the best student in school. He was often getting in trouble with the teachers and principal. He made the decision to dropout of school entirely.
He would quickly achieve success through Sun Records in Memphis along with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. He had several number one hits along the way. He was given the nickname “The Killer” and played with a frenetic style. Sometimes he would even light his piano on fire on stage as he played, much to the dismay of the local fire marshals. However, it appeared that while he was born with much musical genius, he lacked normal common sense. He made a few very unwise decisions and it derailed his career for many years.
Written by Ryan Crawley
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