Stephanie Phillips is a London-based freelance journalist and content writer, specialising in music, race and feminism.
I’ve spent the last few days researching my black female guitar foremothers in an almighty playlist that I’ll share with you all soon. In the process I discovered Lady Bo, lead guitarist in Bo Diddley’s band from 1957-1961. Lady Bo, real name Peggy Jones, was the first female guitarist to be hired by a major act and was a huge influence on Diddley and his sound.
Jones’ life was changed after a chance encounter with Bo Diddley before a gig at the Apollo Theatre. She was carrying her guitar with her; Diddley who was so stunned to see a beautiful woman with a guitar invited her to the dressing room as Jones recounts in an interview with Lea Gilmore:
After a while he opened his guitar, asked me to grab mine and play something. When I opened my case he laughed louder than anyone I’d heard before. I wanted to know what’s funny? Hysterically he said what is that? He had never seen a Supro guitar. I said, “Now that’s a dumb question! First you probably never saw a girl carrying a guitar down the street before and want to know if I played it, did you think that was funny?” He said, “No!” I continued, “then you insult my ax and I listen to Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Charlie Parker and I think I’’ve heard of you! Do you think that’s funny?” He said, “No, but I like your attitude, let’s play something.” I said OK and the rest is history.
Although Jones had only been playing guitar for two years she had shown a talent for music from a young age. Growing up in the Sugar Hill district of Manhattan she enjoyed tap dancing at an early age and studied opera and learnt the ukulele at age 9. She graduated from New York’s High School for Performing Arts studying dance, drama and music theory.