Do you know about the day that music died? It was one of the most tragic events that happened in American music history. It was the day when a plane crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson.
These were 3 of the greatest rock and roll singers of all time. In their time, they were living legends, and they were still in their prime. It was a horrific day for music fans and one that’s still discussed to this day.
But what led up to these tragic events? Was the plane in a condition to fly on that day? How did these three singers end up on the same plane? Decades after the event, many fans still want answers…
Watch this video to learn about the tragic details about the day music died…
BUDDY HOLLY, RITCHIE VALENS, & THE BIG BOPPER
The now-legendary Buddy Holly was born on September 7, 1936, in the town of Lubbock, Texas. His family had a keen interest in music, and he began learning how to play the guitar at a young age. He was taught how to play the guitar by his elder brother Travis.
His earliest musical influences included country and folk singers. His heroes were Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family. But as Buddy began to pursue a music career on his own, his musical style shifted to the new genre of rock and roll. This change came about after he saw Elvis Presley perform for the first time. Buddy Holly is now remembered as one of the pioneers of rock and roll music.
Ritchie Valens was born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents from Mexico. He grew up with a mixture of musical influences, including Mariachi, R & B, Flamenco, and Blues. As a child, he learned how to play the guitar, trumpet, and drums.
He was 15 years old when there was a mid-air collision between two planes in his hometown of Pacoima. This event traumatized him and actually led to a fear of flying! By the time Ritchie Valens was 16, he started performing with a band called The Silhouettes. He soon became a popular singer while still in his teens – with “Donna” and “La Bamba” becoming two of his most popular songs.
Jiles Perry Richardson Jr., also known as “The Big Bopper” was born in Sabine Pass, Texas, and grew up in Beaumont. He began his career as a radio disc jockey, which is where he got his nickname. He had a natural flair for entertaining others on the air.
He also was extremely talented at playing the guitar and worked as a songwriter. One of his earliest songs was “White Lightning” which became a huge hit for country singer George Jones.
Two of The Big Bopper’s biggest radio hits were “Chantilly Lace” and “Big Bopper’s Wedding.”
These were three supremely talented artists who helped shape rock and roll music. It’s no wonder that this trio is collectively remembered as the “Music.”
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HOW THE TRIO CAME TOGETHER
So how did Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson come together?
By the late 1950s, these three artists had become some of the most famous artists in American music. They all became part of a tour known as The Winter Dance Party tour. They traveled across the United States, performing in clubs and concert halls.
In parts of the country, the weather was extreme. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, Waylon Jennings, and Dion were performing together on this tour. They were the biggest names in rock and roll, while Waylon Jennings was one of America’s biggest country stars.
The Winter Dance Party tour began in January 1959 in Milwaukee. The tour was intended to travel over the upper Midwest. The weather was extremely cold, and the roads were icy. This caused many issues with the tour bus.
Eventually, the tour bus broke down. The singers and musicians realized they had to find alternate methods of travel.
They were stuck in the freezing winters for several hours. They drank, burned newspapers, and told anecdotes to each other to survive in the harsh winter. But many of them were unable to handle the severe cold. Buddy Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch got frostbite in his feet!
Buddy Holly decided he should fly to North Dakota. He felt that this would give him ample time to do his laundry and get some rest before his next show. It was decided that some members of the group would fly while others would have to drive to the next location.
Waylon Jennings decided not to fly and offered his seat to The Big Bopper. Ritchie Valens really wanted to fly with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. He put his fear of flying aside and asked Tommy Allsup, Buddy’s guitarist, if he could take his spot on the plane. The two men tossed a coin, and Ritchie won the toss! The trio would now get on the plane together.
FEBRUARY 3, 1959
On February 3, 1959, a plane took off from near Mason City Municipal Airport in Iowa. The weather included light snow, low visibility, and strong winds.
The plane took off without any issues. However, after some time, the control towers lost contact with pilot Roger Peterson.
Hubert Dwyer was the owner of the Dwyer Flying Service, which provided the plane that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were passengers on. Once Dwyer lost contact with Peterson, he decided to charter a plane to try to retrace the plane’s route.
Eventually, they found the site of a plane crash on a cornfield owned by Albert Juhl. The plane was the same plane that carried the trio. Sadly, all three passengers and the pilot had died.
This sad day became known as “The Day the Music Died.” It was the day that the world lost three talented singers who were still in their prime. Though their careers were short-lived, their contribution to rock and roll and to American popular culture remains unparalleled.
Decades after this tragic event, fans still have questions about the circumstances of the plane crash. There’s still so much discussion as to why it happened and if it could have been prevented.
The Aftermath of the plane crash was grim. Buddy Holly’s family hadn’t been immediately notified of his death.
His wife Maria Elena Holly heard about Buddy’s death on a TV news report. She was traumatized and suffered a miscarriage. They had only been married for six months.
In fact, after Buddy Holly’s death, there were protocols set up proclaiming that a celebrity’s death should not be revealed to the public without informing the family first. This is now standard practice across the country.
Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson were buried in their native Texas. Ritchie Valens was buried in his native California, and the pilot, Roger Peterson, was buried in Iowa. Buddy Holly was 22, Ritchie Valens was 17, and J.P. Richardson was 28.
Since the plane crash, many investigations have occurred to examine the circumstances that led to the crash. While pilot Roger Peterson had experience with flying, the official report concluded that he wasn’t skilled enough to fly in such harsh weather conditions.
It was concluded that he needed to depend on the navigation tools to successfully fly through a blizzard. It was also concluded that he didn’t have adequate experience to use such tools. Several other investigations have been opened since the original one.
The most recent one was in 2015 when a retired pilot L.J. Coon, suggested that there may have been an issue with the plane and that the crash shouldn’t be attributed to Peterson’s inexperience. However, as of now, the official report still suggests that the crash was due to a mix of Peterson’s inexperience and harsh weather.
“The Day the Music Died” remains a harrowing day for the families and friends of the three artists and the pilot. It’s a day that music fans still discuss to this day.
While Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson left us way too young, we’re glad that their music still holds up today. “Peggy Sue” “La Bamba” and “Chantilly Lace” are still songs that we enjoy to this day.
These three artists will always be remembered as being a major influence on rock and roll music.
But perhaps the best way to remember these three artists is from the 1971 song “American Pie” by Don McLean.
Don McLean was 13 when he opened a newspaper to learn about The Day that Music Died. The event shook him and gave him grief. He turned this grief into the song “American Pie” which discusses the event.
To this day, music fans discuss The Day the Music Died. They discuss what would have happened if a more senior pilot had been in charge. They wonder about what would have happened if the bus in Milwaukee hadn’t broken down. It was later discovered that a pistol was found on the plane, and there remains some speculation that foul play was involved with the plane crash – though there’s no hard evidence of this.
It’s likely we’ll continue to discuss the tragic details about the Day the Music Died. But we should also discuss the incredible artistry of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. We should continue to enjoy their music and introduce them to a new generation…
Are you a fan of any of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper?
Do you feel that their songs are still very popular? Or do we need to promote these musical geniuses to new audiences?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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