Norma-Jean Richardson, a/k/a Duchess, fondly-remembered member of the Bo Diddley band between the years 1962 and 1966, died on Saturday, April 30th in Fontana, CA.
Bo Diddley was very saddened by the news that Duchess, his "Play Sister," had passed away: "Norma-Jean was my first sidekick," he said. "We did everything together. She was like family, which was why I told everyone she was my sister. There was no one else like her and I will miss her very much. I hadn't seen Duchess in so many years, but then she surprised me at a show in California last July. I'm so glad we had the chance to spend some time together again before she left this Earth."
The Duchess was born Norma-Jean Wofford in Pittsburgh, PA. Bo Diddley taught her to play and how to emulate his sound on the electric guitar. Given her stage name by Bo Diddley, she joined his band on electric guitar and vocals just prior to the recording of the "Bo Diddley & Company" LP in 1962 and appeared on the front cover of the album sleeve.
The following year she played on the classic live "Bo Diddley's Beach Party" LP before performing on Bo Diddley's debut UK tour in the fall of 1963, along with the Everly Brothers, Little Richard and the newly-formed Rolling Stones, followed by a second tour of the UK in the fall of 1965. Notable TV and movie appearances for Bo Diddley and Duchess included the Clay Cole TV show, "The Big TNT Show" movie, and two appearances on the popular "Ready Steady Go!" UK TV music show.
Duchess was also immortalized in song at the time by Eric Burdon in the Animals' recording "The Story of Bo Diddley":
He turned around to Duchess
And he said, "Hey Duchess...what do you think of these young guys
Doin' our material?"
She said, "I don't know. I only came across here
To see the Changin' of the Guards and all that jazz."
(Words and music: Eric Burdon/Ellas McDaniel)
A message from Norma-Jean's long-time friend Ritzy Lee of the singing group The Del-Vikings: "I am very saddened by this news, because in the 40 or more years that I have known Norma-Jean, I have never seen or heard anything about her or the life she lived that was not GOOD. She not only loved playing the guitar, but loved as well the reception that she experienced from all of the Bo Diddley fans around the world. And she expounded on that fact many, many times to me during our various conversations over the years. Norma-Jean Richardson was truly The Duchess of Rock and Roll."