“The day the music died” represents the first impactful loss to the world of rock and roll music. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper) all tragically lost their lives in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 near Clear Lake, Iowa. These men were three of the four acts traveling to 24 cities in the mid-west on The Winter Dance Party Tour. Initially traveling via tour bus, the plane charter was a last minute decision. The bus’s heating system was ill-equipped for the cold weather which caused several musicians to catch the flu and for Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, to be hospitalized for frostbite.
Only having room for three passengers in the plane, it was initially set to transfer Buddy and his band mates. Holly’s bassist and future country legend, Waylon Jennings, gave up his seat to Richardson because he was ill at the time. It is said that Tommy Allsup, Holly’s guitarist, lost a coin toss to Ritchie Valens which unfortunately secured him the last open seat.
It was determined that the plane crash was due to weather and to the 21-year-old pilot’s inexperience. At the time Buddy Holly had only been married six months to Maria Elena, who was pregnant with their first and only child. Only a day after the crash occurred, Maria miscarried from the emotional trauma and the shock of losing her husband so suddenly.
Buddy Holly and The Crickets had recently scored a No. 1 hit with their song “That’ll Be the Day” before the accident occurred. Holly not only topped charts with songs like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning,” but wrote all of his own music; a trait that was not expected of musicians at the time. Buddy also altered the image of how a rock and roll musician was expected to look, by wearing his iconic horn rim glasses.
J.P. Richardson began his career as a disk jockey in Texas and continued to use his person as “The Big Bopper” in his musical career. Despite being misunderstood as a one-hit wonder, Richardson had a full career of songwriting, playing both the guitar and piano, and creating an image and identity that was all his own. His most popular song was “Chantilly Lace” before his life and career was cut all too short.
Ritchie Valens was one of the first Mexican-American musicians to score multiple, extremely successful hits early on in the life of rock and roll music. “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba,” all made a splash onto the music scene and continue to be celebrated to this day. “La Bamba” consists solely of Spanish speaking lyrics and was wildly accepted by English speaking Americans; an occurrence that was somewhat unusual for the time.
The day the music died not only brought to a halt the musical careers of three exceptional and important musicians, but swiftly and tragically stole the too short lives of the 28 year old “Big Bopper,” 22 year old Buddy Holly, and 17 year old Ritchie Valens. Though little light can be cast on this moment in history, it is indisputable that the time these men spent on this earth left an everlasting impact on rock and music.
Daveliftongmail-com. “The Story of Rock’s First Tragedy: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper Killed in Plane Crash.” Ultimate Classic Rock. N.p., 03 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 May 2017.
“The Day the Music Died.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 30 May 2017.
Staff, Legacy.com. “The Big Bopper Story.” Legacy.com. N.p., 07 July 2016. Web. 30 May 2017.