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Bo Diddley

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Artist / Musician
Artist / Performer

Bo Diddley (1928-2008)

Bo Diddley was a singer, guitarist, songwriter, and music producer who helped pioneer the transition of blues to rock and roll.  His influence was felt by Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and The Clash.  His use of African rhythms and a signature beat, a simple five accent hambone rhythm is a cornerstone of hip hop, rock, and pop music.  His stage name was most likely derived from the diddley bow, a one-stringed African guitar popular in the Mississippi Delta region.

Bo Diddley was born in McComb, MS as Elias Bates.  He was adopted by his mother’s cousin Gussie McDaniel who moved to Chicago’s South Side when he was five years old.  Bo became an active member of Chicago’s Ebenezer Baptist Church where he studied trombone and violin.  He became so proficient on the violin he played in the church orchestra until he was eighteen.  He became more interested in the joyful music he heard at a Pentacostal Church and took up the guitar.  Inspired by a John Lee Hooker performance, Diddley began performing at the Maxwell Street Market in the summers of 1943 and 1944 in a band with Earl Hooker.

In 1951, Bo landed a regular spot at the 708 Club and in 1954 recorded “I’m a Man” and “Bo Diddley” for Chess Records.  The record was released in March 1955 and the A-side “Bo Diddley” became a #1 R&B hit.  On November 20, 1955 Diddley appeared on the popular Ed Sullivan Show.  His hit singles continued in the 1950’s and 1960’s with “Pretty Thing” (1956), “Say Man” (1959), and “You Can’t Judge a Book” (1962).  He also released eleven full-length albums including Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger and Have Guitar, Will Travel.  His surf records Surfin’ with Bo Diddley and Bo Diddley’s Beach Party featured heavy distorted blues played on his Gretsch guitar with bended notes and minor key riffs.  Diddley included women in his band including Norma-Jean Watson, also known as The Duchess, Gloria Jolivet, Peggy Jones also known as Lady Bo, a lead guitarist (rare for a woman at that time), and Cornelia Redmond, also known as Cookie V.

Bo Diddley appeared in Legends of Guitar, filmed live in Spain 1991, along with B.B. King, Les Paul, and Albert Collins.  In 1996, he released his final studio album A Man Amongst Men and won the Grammy Award in 1997 for the Best Contemporary Blues Album category.

Bo Diddley was honored with a plaque devoted to him on the Mississippi Blues Trail in 2007 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.  In 2004 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #20 on its list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

The museum suffered damage as the result of a microburst in downtown Joliet. The building did sustain some damage however we are extremely grateful that no one was injured during this tragedy. 


We are fortunate that Gigantar, our exhibit artifacts and the gift shop merchandise all escaped any damage. 


We are temporarily closed to the public as we work with our contractors through the cleanup process. 
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