The Day the Music Died: Rock's Great Tragedy
The Day the Music Died: Rock's Great Tragedy

On February 3, 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and their pilot Roger Peterson died in a plane crash, a tragedy that has been remembered as “The Day the Music Died.”

In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, three performers—Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson—joined their pilot Roger Peterson for what was supposed to be a flight to their next tour stop. But the passengers and their pilot never made it to their destination. Instead the four were involved in a deadly crash that took the lives of all aboard. This tragedy has been remembered as “The Day the Music Died.”

Buddy Holly had been the biggest star of the bunch, known for such hits as “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” The teenaged Ritchie Valens was an up-and-coming performer having nearly made it to the top of the charts in 1958 with his ode to his high school sweetheart with the song “Donna.” J.P. Richardson, better known as “The Big Bopper,” was a Texas songwriter and radio DJ who caught the nation’s ear with the catchy tune “Chantilly Lace.”

The three singers had each signed on to be part of “The Winter Dance Party” tour, which had a hectic schedule of 24 concerts in the Midwest over a three-week period. Dion and the Belmonts also performed with them on the tour. They had already played several dates before reaching the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2nd. By this time, Buddy Holly had enough of the freezing, unreliable tour bus. Holly decided to hire a plane from a local flying service to take him to the next gig in Moorhead, Minnesota, to avoid another miserable night on the road. The plan was to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, which was close to Moorhead.

That Fateful Flight

The show at the Surf Ballroom had been packed—an impressive showing for a Monday night. After the concert, Holly, Richardson and Valens made their way to the Mason City airport for a 12:30 am departure. Roger Peterson had volunteered to fly the trio. The 21-year-old pilot may have been young, but he already had four years of flying experience. Unfortunately, he was unaware of a weather advisory that had been issued before he took off with his passengers.

Only a short while after the flight began, however, the plane ran into some trouble and crashed. Jerry Dwyer, the owner of the air service company, went out looking for the plane after it failed to show up in Fargo. He made a gruesome discovery only a few miles away from the airport. The bodies of Holly, Richardson and Valens been thrown from the plane in the crash. Peterson’s remains were trapped inside the cockpit.


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