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Sad Day For Chicago Legends: Sills, Diddley Die

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 2, 2008 8:05PM

On the heels of last week's passing of Harvey Korman comes even more bad news for Chicago entertainment legends. First, Paul Sills, Second City co-creator and director of other troupes such as Playwrights and Compass Players, passed away yesterday at the age of 80. As a student at the University of Chicago, Sills joined forces with Ed Asner, Elaine May, and Mike Nichols to found the school's first student-lead theater group, "Tonight at 8:30." Later, in 1959, he founded The Second City with partners Bernard Sahlins and Howard Alk. These were but a few of Sills many accomplishments; he's also considered a pioneer of the improv scene, directing for the aforementioned Compass Players troupe, the first improv theater in the United States and a forbearer of The Second City.

Not to be overlooked, rock icon Bo Diddley died from heart failure Monday at the age of 79 at his home in Archer, Florida. Diddley had been in Florida since suffering a debilitating stroke while on tour in Iowa several months ago. Born in Mississippi, Diddley, originally named Ellas Otha Bates, moved to Chicago with his mother's cousin at the age of five and was renamed Ellas McDaniel. Diddley was musically inclined from an early age, taking violin lessons at the South Side's historic Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Diddley is most often credited with giving rock and roll it's "rhythm."

Diddley called his syncopated groove a "freight-train" sound, others described it as a "shave-and-a-haircut" rhythm. The beat had been around for centuries, most notably in West African drumming, but Diddley mastered it and augmented it for the rock 'n' roll era. He perfected his sound by playing on Maxwell Street and South Side streetcorners for pocket change with his band the Hipsters.
His style influenced other rockers like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis Costello, just to name a few.

Like Sills, Diddley's accomplishments are far too many to list here, nor could we do either man justice in celebrating their lives and contributions to not only their respective scenes in Chicago, but to their vocations at large. It's simply not possible to put into words what each man has done, so we'll leave that to others and simply let each man speak for himself.

Here is an interview with Paul Sills by Laurie Ann Gruhn focusing on Sills' Story Theatre and following is a clip of Bo Diddley doing with Diddley did best: rocking and rolling.