Ellas McDaniel (born Ellas Otha Bates; December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008), known as Bo Diddley, was an American singer, guitarist, songwriter and music producer who played a key role in the transition from the blues to rock and roll. He influenced many artists, including 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. In recognition of his achievements, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2017. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Diddley is also recognized for his technical innovations, including his distinctive rectangular guitar, with its unique booming, resonant, shimmering tones.
The origin of the stage name Bo Diddley is unclear. McDaniel claimed that his peers gave him the name, which he suspected was an insult. He also said that the name first belonged to a singer his adoptive mother knew. Harmonicist Billy Boy Arnold said that it was a local comedian’s name, which Leonard Chess adopted as McDaniel’s stage name and the title of his first single. McDaniel also stated that his school classmates in Chicago gave him the nickname, which he started using when sparring and boxing in the neighborhood with The Little Neighborhood Golden Gloves Bunch.
In the story “Black Death” by Zora Neale Hurston, Beau Diddely was a womanizer who impregnates a young woman, disavows responsibility, and meets his undoing by the powers of the local hoodoo man. Hurston submitted it in a contest run by the academic journal Opportunity in 1925, where it won an honorable mention, but it was never published in her lifetime.
A diddley bow is a homemade single-string instrument played mainly by farm workers in the South. It probably has influences from the West African coast. In the American slang term bo diddly, bo is an intensifier and diddly is a truncation of diddly squat, which means “absolutely nothing”.