Spectropop remembers

THE DUCHESS (c. 1942 - 2005)

Girl with guitar.

Anyone who's ever seen clips of Bo Diddley and his band tearing it up on "Hey, Bo Diddley" and "Bo Diddley" in the 1966 movie The Big TNT Show knows The Duchess. The embodiment of tough-yet-graceful rock'n'roll cool, sharing a microphone with the equally glamorous Bo-ettes (Lily "Bee Bee" Jamieson and Gloria Morgan), she dominated the stage in a shiny ankle-length dress, churning primal chords and rhythms out of her Gretsch guitar that gave even Diddley a run for his money.

Born Norma-Jean Wofford in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she began her career in 1962. After the departure of his first female guitarist, Peggy "Lady Bo" Jones, wherever Bo Diddley played, he would hear discontented whispers in the audience: "Where's the girl? Where's the girl?" "That's when I got The Duchess," he told his biographer. "I taught her how to play guitar, and then I taught her how to play my thing, you know. Then, after I hired her in the group, I named her The Duchess, and I says, 'I'm gonna tell everybody we're sister and brother.' Part of the reason I decided to go with that little lie was that it put me in a better position to protect her when we were on the road."

Lending her inimitable style to the grooves (and sleeves) of 1962's "Bo Diddley & Company" and 1963's "Bo Diddley's Beach Party" albums, she accompanied him on his first tour of England that same year, where her guitar prowess created a stir equalled only by that of her skin-tight gold lamé cat suit. Asked by one dauntless investigator how she managed to get into it, Norma-Jean responded by pulling out an over-sized shoehorn. Eric Burdon later immortalised her in the Animals' "Story Of Bo Diddley".

"I think a lot of Norma-Jean," Diddley said. "She stayed with me until 1966, but then she got married and went to live in Florida. She was, like, a very honest person to be in the group. I mean totally honest, you know. She used to be my bank. I used to tell her to keep all my money, and stuff like this, and she would do this for me. The Duchess came from a very good family. They were very nice to me, and they were like a big family, you know. When I met them, they immediately accepted me as a friend, and not just somebody that was famous. Her mother treated me as if I was one of hers. It was just like being home. It was really great: they were beautiful people. I think I made a good choice because she did shine a light on the Bo Diddley aggregation."

(Assembled by Mick Patrick from the following sources: Michael Hurtt in Mojo; George R. White in Bo Diddley - Living Legend, published by Castle Communications, 1995.)

Norma-Jean Richardson, nee Woffard, "The Duchess", guitarist: born c. 1942 - died April 30th, 2005.