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Who is Bo Diddley?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
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  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
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Bo Diddley is often thought of as a pioneer of bringing rhythm and blues elements into rock and roll. Born Elias Otha Bates in 1928, Bo Diddley was raised by a second cousin, and sometimes used her surname, McDaniel. The McDaniel family moved to Chicago when Bo Diddley was fairly young, and he early showed a talent for music, studying first the violin and then the guitar.

Diddley combined hard work with a fledgling music career in his late teens. He worked as both a carpenter and mechanic, but also began work as a street musician, before getting regular gigs at Chicago clubs in the early 1950s. By the mid 1950s, Elias McDaniel became Bo Diddley, at least while performing on stage, and in 1955, he had a bonafide R & B hit with the song “Bo Diddley.”

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On thing Diddley is known for is pioneering a specific beat “One and two and three and four and…” repeated for a second measure. This beat takes its inspiration from rumba rhythms and has been used often by some of the great rock musicians, such as bands like U2, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and The Byrds. His work directly influenced the early world of rock and especially late in life; he received numerous accolades from the music world. These include induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. By fellow musicians and music organizations and publications, Bo Diddley is considered one of the most influential of rock, R & B, and rockabilly musicians, and was ranked by Rolling Stone as among the 100 greatest rock artists.

Most of the successful and musically active years of Bo Diddley occurred from the mid 1950s through the early 1970s. He continued to play live performances sporadically in the late 1970s and onward, including working as an opening act for punk band The Clash. His interests continued to be diverse, and he even worked in Valencia County, New Mexico as a law officer during the 1970s.

Up until a year before his death on 2 June 2008, Bo Diddley remained active as a musician, making appearances by request. However, about a year before his death, he suffered a stroke, and only made one performance that year, in November of 2007. Diddley primarily remained in Florida for his last year of life, comforted by his many friends and family and his strong Christian belief that he would go to heaven. His death was reported by family members as expected and peaceful.

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