The Duchess

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Norma-Jean Wofford had a unique and extraordinary music career during the early/middle 1960's. By sheer chance during the late 1950's, rock 'n' roll legend Bo Diddley had befriended the Wofford family…
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Norma-Jean Wofford had a unique and extraordinary music career during the early/middle 1960's. By sheer chance during the late 1950's, rock 'n' roll legend Bo Diddley had befriended the Wofford family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in the course of their contact, he taught their daughter Norma-Jean the guitar and, later, how to emulate his sound on electric guitar. Since 1957, Bo Diddley's band had included one female member, singer (and later guitarist) Peggy Jones, who was with him, playing second guitar (and often lead) on many of his records. When she left in 1961, he replaced her with Norma-Jean Wofford, whom he dubbed The Duchess and introduced to the world as his sister, in the interest of protecting her on the road. Wofford first appeared on Bo Diddley & Company (1962), and played in his touring band until 1966. The Duchess cut an amazing figure on stage with the band, as preserved permanently in the movie The Big T.N.T. Show (1966) -working alongside singers Gloria Morgan and Lily "Bee Bee" Jamieson, i.e. the "Bo-ettes," she sang on the choruses, but her main function was providing the lead fills on various songs or doubling with Bo Diddley's own rhythm guitar; on stage, they made a combination more overpowering than Brian Jones and Keith Richards. Actually, her musical relationship to her mentor was somewhat akin to that of Sylvia (aka Sylvia Robinson) in Mickey And Sylvia, with Bo Diddley in the role of Mickey Baker. On record, The Duchess's credits are a little more difficult to pin down as, following Bo Diddley & Company, the credits on his records became a little vague -- especially on Surfin' With Bo Diddley -- though she's certainly on the 1963 vintage live album Bo Diddley's Beach Party. That legendary album, plus Bo Diddley & Company and the set in The Big T.N.T. Show, constitute a serious legacy of memorably crunchy guitar sounds and, as shared with Peggy Jones, a most unusual corner of rock 'n' roll history for a woman to occupy. Wofford's decision to get married ended her career -- she left the band and settled down to raise a family.