Did a petchem product make Chuck Berry a star? A case could be made.
The story starts back in 1915, when a 19-year-old entrepreneur named Tom Lyle Williams saw his sister mix coal dust with Vaseline (or petroleum jelly) and apply it to her eye lashes to make them look fuller. Tom took his sister’s idea, adapted it and created a product he called Maybelline, in honor of his sister, Mabel, who gave him the idea.
Fast forward to 1955, in the Chess Records recording studio where a young musician was about to record his first record, “Ida Mae.” There was a problem, though. The studio owner, Leonard Chess, didn’t like the title, “Ida Mae.”
Then this happened, according to NPR: “Pianist Johnnie Johnson says, “We looked up on the windowsill, and there was a mascara box up there with Maybelline written on it. And Leonard Chess said, ‘Why don’t we name the damn thing ‘Maybellene’?” (They changed the spelling slightly to avoid a lawsuit.)
And that’s how Chuck Berry’s first hit, Maybellene—with its classic riff, “Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true?”—came to be.