In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, millions of people across America and around the world were shaken up by the news that the lives of rising rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson was cut short following a tragic plane crash. The day that killed three of music’s brightest stars was later known as “The Day the Music Died.”
Singer-songwriter Don McLean made reference to the unfortunate event in his 1971 groundbreaking song “American Pie.”
“I can’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride. But something touched me deep inside. The day the music died,” McLean sings.
The Tragic Plane Crash That Killed The Three Musicians
Buddy Holly and his band The Crickets – composed of Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, and Waylon Jennings – were playing in the 24-day Winter Dance Party tour across the States. The tour was expected to conclude in Springfield, Illinois, on February 15, 1959. The same goes for the other victims, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Just like in Don McLean’s song, “The Day the Music Died” happened in a cold February. It was mid-winter and was absolutely freezing, which made the long journeys between events miserable and uncomfortable. Even worse, their tour bus broke down in the middle of an icy highway. Some tour members started to get sick, while others suffered frostbite.
“It was so cold on the bus that we’d have to wear all our clothes, coats, and everything. … I couldn’t believe how cold it was,” Waylon Jennings recalled.
It was then that Holly decided to travel on a plane to reach their next destination in Moorhead, Minnesota. Meanwhile, Richardson, who was hit by flu, persuaded Jennings to give up his seat while Valens won a coin toss against Allsup to earn a plane seat. Together – Holly, Richardson, and Valens – took off from the airport at Mason City.
Unfortunately, the poor and wintry weather conditions led to the pilot losing control of the light aircraft just after take-off. They then crashed into a cornfield and killed everyone on board.
Indeed, it was one of the most sorrowful events in history, “The Day the Music Died” – but the legacy the three men left behind will surely never be forgotten.
Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens