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Bo Diddley biography

December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008  B:McComb, Mississippi

Also known as: Otha Ellas Bates McDaniels

Like many bluesmen, Bo Diddley has his deepest musical roots in gospel. He also studied classical music in his youth, but turned to blues after he was introduced to the music of John Lee Hooker. Reportedly it was Hooker’s classic “Boogie Chillen” that had such a dramatic impact. Diddley’s music is definitely blues-based, however he has had a more profound impact on rock and roll, especially through the beat he’s known for, which became foundational in the genre. He influenced the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, among many others, with his particularly lighthearted, rhythm-based brand of blues. Diddley grew up in Chicago and began his blues career playing on the street, eventually forming his own band — which included harmonica master Billy Boy Arnold — and signing with record label Chess. Many of his songs are blues and rock and roll classics. Diddley further influenced rock and roll with his design of a square guitar, one of his trademarks.

Bo Diddley’s stature as a founding father of rock & roll is indisputable despite his relative lack of commercial success and he gained a healthy boost with 1990’s Chess Box, a double-CD outlining his greatest works. (Shorter best-ofs also abound.) He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1996 he released his first major-label album in two decades, A Man Amongst Men, with guest artists including Ron Wood, Keith Richards, and the Shirelles. The album was nominated for a 1997 Grammy in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category. The following year, he received the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award. He also was the recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award; the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters’ Pioneer in Entertainment Award; and a BMI Icon Award. Diddley is enshrined in the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and the North Florida Music Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone named Diddley the 20th Greatest Artist of All Time.

He organized a fundraiser for the town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, in January 2006, to help pay for damage done by Hurricane Katrina.

Diddley attributed his long career to abstinence from alcohol and drugs, though later in life he suffered from diabetes. He died of heart failure in his home in Archer, Florida, on June 2, 2008.