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The Day the Music Died: February 3rd, 1959

Musicians Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash in Iowa

1936: Singer-songwriter Buddy Holly is born under the birth name Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas. Holly would go on to become one of rock 'n' roll's pioneers despite a brief career cut short by his tragic death at age 22. (Brunswick Records)

It was the event that was immortalized in the 1971 song “American Pie” by singer-songwriter Don McLean.

Appropriately referred to as the “The Day the Music Died,” weather likely contributed to a commuter flight crash that killed rock n’ roll musicians Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper -- whose real name was J.P. Richardson, and Ritchie Valens, along with pilot Roger Peterson.

1930: Jiles Perry Richardson Jr., the disc jockey, singer-songwriter and guitarist better known as The Big Bopper, is born in Sabine Pass, Texas. The early rock 'n' roll star, best known for his recording of "Chantilly Lace," died at age (Mercury Records)
1941: Singer-songwriter and guitarist Ritchie Valens, best known for the hit songs "La Bamba," "Come On, Let's Go" and "Donna," is born Richard Steven Valenzuela in Los Angeles, California. Valens had a recording career that lasted all of eight months before dying at age 17 in the same Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash that claimed Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. (Repertoire Records)
1936: Singer-songwriter Buddy Holly is born under the birth name Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas. Holly would go on to become one of rock 'n' roll's pioneers despite a brief career cut short by his tragic death at age 22. (Brunswick Records)

While on a grueling Midwest tour, Holly opted to charter a flight for himself and bandmates from Mason City, Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota. The bus for the “Winter Dance Party” tour had been breaking down and temperatures were bitterly cold. Richardson, also known as the Big Bopper, asked Waylon Jennings, who was one of Holly’s bandmembers if he could have his seat on the flight because he had been battling the flu.

Valens asked Tommy Allsup, Holly’s guitar player for his seat. They flipped a coin and Valens won the seat.

Temperatures had been below zero across the Midwest and when the plane took off, bands of snow were developing. The young pilot, Roger Peterson, took off in the Beechcraft Bonanza, without much experience flying in wintry weather. Snow began to accumulate on the plane, causing it to lose altitude. It crashed ten miles from the airport, killing all on board.

Plane wreckage on February 3, 1959

In June 1988, a memorial bearing the names of Peterson and the three entertainers was dedicated outside the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Don McLean later famous addressed the plane crash in his 1971 song “American Pie” labeling it the “Day the Music Died”.


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