Diddley (a nickname he acquired in his high school days) was born Otha Ellas Bates in Mississippi. He was adopted, along with three cousins, by his mother's cousin and her partner. The family were poor sharecroppers and moved to Chicago in the mid-30s.
As a teenager he began playing guitar on street corners and also learned to make guitars and violins in school. In 1951 he became a professional in Chicago nightclubs and began to record in 1954.
He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of the blues and was highly influential on later rhythm and blues and rock musicians. He is still (2001) performing.
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