Bo Diddley is a recognized icon, innovator, and legend of rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues music. He was born Otha Ellas Bates on December 30, 1928, in McComb, Mississippi, but changed his name to Ellas McDaniel after being adopted by his mother's cousin Gussie McDaniel. Following the death of Ellas’ adopted father in the mid-1930s, Mrs. McDaniel moved her family to Chicago when Ellas was six years old. As a youngster in Chicago, he studied music at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, with the trombone and violin being his primary instruments. He completed 12 years of violin studies and was a member of the church orchestra. (Aside from music, he also learned to box during this period and gained a reputation as a local amateur professional.) His first guitar was a gift from his sister Lucille, and teenaged Ellas took up the instrument with the same dedication he applied to learning the violin. According to Ellas, John Lee Hooker was a major influence on his guitar playing.
For a time, Ellas performed in local groups such as The Hipsters and Langley Avenue Jive Cats with Jody Williams, Billy Boy Arnold, and Jerome Green, who was a bandmate of Bo's for decades. Ellas related that he was given the name “Bo Diddley” by his neighborhood peers and his first bandmates. He recorded his first single entitled "Bo Diddley" backed with "I'm A Man" in 1955 on the Checker label, a subsidiary of Chess Records. His recording topped the Rhythm and Blues charts for two weeks. Bo Diddley was a true innovator, as he was one of the first guitarists to use the DeArmond Tremolo effect to create his trademark guitar sound on the hit "Bo Diddley," known as the ‘Bo Diddley Beat.’
By many accounts, Bo Diddley lived in Washington, D.C. from about 1957 to 1966. He shared that he moved to D.C. to be near the Howard Theater because it was within driving distance to New York City and jobs throughout South. During these years, between touring and serving as an A&R and recording for Chess Records in Chicago, he lived at 2614 Rhode Island Ave. N.E. where he built a home recording studio. D.C. (He later had a home at 812 Rittenhouse St. N.W. and also resided in an apartment building at 1724 Newton St. N.W.) Artists such as Billy Stewart, The Marquees and The Jewels practiced at his home and some recorded in his home studio on Rhode Island Ave. Many of these artists recount that Bo's home was where they developed their sound during their high school years and beyond. As is well documented, Bo Diddley recommended Stewart and the Jewels to Chess Records. Sandra Bears recalled that The Jewels sang background vocals on "Bo Diddley is a Lover" at Chess studios and recorded their songs "I Need You So Much" and "For the Love of Mike" in his home studio. Bo Diddley also recorded tunes for his 1960 album "Bo Diddley is a Gun Slinger" in his home studio.
Another significant D.C. connection is that Bo Diddley hired Gloria (Morgan) Jolivet and Lily "Bee Bee" Jameson as backup singers. Both Jolivet and Jameson were seniors at DC’s Eastern High School and members of the all-girl group, The Barvells. Gloria toured with Bo Diddley from 1964 to 1973 and later married Bo's nephew, Ricky Jolivet. Gloria and “Bee Bee” weren’t the only women to perform with Bo, however. Peggy Jones - known as "Lady Bo" - was the first guitarist in his group, followed by Norma Jean Wofford known as "The "Duchess."
For his legendary contributions to rock ‘n’ roll music and the genres it influenced, Bo Diddley received of many awards. Notably he was inducted in the Washington Area Music Associations Hall of Fame in 1986 and the following year he was inducted in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH. Other honors include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and inductions into both the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and North Florida Musicians Hall of Fame in 2000. Bo suffered stroke in 2007 and died of a heart attack in 2008.
Bo Diddley & Company album (1962); Bo with his first band; Peggy Jones aka "Lady Bo"; Bo's promo photo (1957); Norma Jean Wofford aka "The "Duchess;" Bo with "The Duchess"
"Bo Diddley caught a nanny goat to make his pretty baby a Sunday coat"
- Bo Diddley