VIDEO: The influential musician helped the blues evolve into rock 'n' roll

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 02, 2008 02:25 PM

Bo Diddley, the Mississippi-born musician credited with helping the blues evolve into rock ‘n’ roll, died of heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla., Monday after a lengthy illness. He was 79.

Born Elias McDaniel, he became Bo Diddley after his family had moved to Chicago, when he was 6. “I don’t know where the kids got it, but the kids in grammar school gave me that name,” he said in 1999, though he actually told many versions of how he got the name, the Associated Press reports. Some profilers cite a one-string instrument used in traditional blues music called a diddley bow as the origin.

What is certain was Diddley’s signature look: homemade square guitar, dark glasses and black hat. His pioneering song hits – 1955’s single “Bo Diddley” introduced listeners to his signature rhythm of bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp – also helped define him, among them: “Say Man,” “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover,” “Shave and a Haircut,” “Uncle John,” “Who Do You Love?” and “The Mule.”

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the recipient of a 1999 lifetime achievement award at the Grammy Awards, Diddley, who also played the inaugurations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, thought it was great to receive honors, “but it didn’t put no figures in my checkbook. … If you ain’t got no money, ain’t nobody calls you honey.”

Survivors, according to The New York Times, include his (fourth) wife, Sylia, his four children, 15 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.