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The Day The Music Died

Updated on November 8, 2016

The Plane Crash Death Of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper

In the winter of 1959, three promising musicians, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, went on the Winter Dance Party tour with other musicians including Dion and The Belmonts.

On February 2nd, 1959, the tour played at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Later that night Buddy Holly, lead singer and guitarist for Buddy Holly And The Crickets, decided to charter a plane for him and his band members Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to the next stop on the tour. Through an interesting blur of events, Allsup and Jennings decided to give up their seats on the small four seater plane to Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

Shortly after 1am (central time), on February 3rd, 1959, radio contact with the plane was unable to be established. The aircraft was reported missing about 3:30am and the plane crash site was found around 9:30 am. All four people on board were killed including Holly, Valens, Richardson and the planes pilot, Roger Peterson.

Buddy Holly - September 7, 1936 - February 3, 1959

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Born Charles Hardin Holley, Buddy Holly is considered a pioneer of Rock and Roll music. Known for songs like That'll Be The Day, Everyday, Peggy Sue and many others.

On the night of February 2nd 1959, Buddy Holly decided to charter a flight from Clear Lake, Iowa to Moorhead, Minnesota the next stop on the 3 week Winter Dance Party tour that Holly and his bandmates were a part of.

Holly was reportably upset about the tour buses constantly breaking down and having no heat. One person on the tour was actually hospitalized that evening for frost bite on his feet and Holly thought a chartered flight would be a more comfortable way to travel. So he made arrangements for him and his two band members to fly out of Mason City, Iowa around 1 am on February 3rd, 1959.

Buddy Holly And The Crickets - That'll Be The Day

Ritchie Valens - May 13, 1941 - February 3, 1959

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Ritchie Valens was only 17 years old when he died in the February 3rd plane crash. He had only begun his music career but had some great hits including La Bamba, Oh Donna and Come On Let's Go.

Valens was not originally slated to take the ill-fated flight.Rumor has it that Valens had never been on a small plane and bugged Tommy Allsup (Buddy Holly and the Crickets) to let him take his seat. Allsup at first declined to let Valens ride the plane in his place, but at the last minute when Valens again asked to take Allsup's seat, Allsup told Valens "I'll flip ya for it". The story goes that Allsup took out a 50 cent piece he had in his pocket and they flipped for it. Valens "won" the toss and died that night.

Ritchie Valens - Come On Let's Go

Ritchie Valens Music And More

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Tommy Allsup

Buddy Holly Band Member

Guitarist For Buddy Holly And The Crickets.

Originally set to be on the plane,Tommy Allsup gave up his chartered plane seat to Ritchie Valens on February 3rd, 1959. Valens won it in a coin toss and Allsup is alive today because of it.

Allsup also had given Buddy Holly his I.D. so that Holly could retrieve a letter for Allsup....when the plane crashed Allsups I.D. was found among the wreckage and it was initially thought that Allsup had also perished in the crash.

Tommy Allsup Talks About Coin Toss With Ritchie Valens - Day The Music Died Video

The Coin Toss - Who Actually Flipped The Coin?

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Many people have claimed to have tossed the coin to decide whether Assup or Valens would take the seat on the plane (Although the Tommy Assup story is the most widely accepted). There are also a quite few people who claim to have given up a seat on that plane, although it's pretty well known that Assup and Jennings were the only two, other than Holly, to have a seat to begin with.

In addition to Assup, it is claimed that Buddy Holly, Bob Hale (the emcee of the show that night), Dion DiMucci (Dion and The Belmonts) or someone else could have flipped that ill-fated coin. You can read some of these accounts here.

Who do you think flipped the coin for Assup and Valens?

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J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson - October 24, 1930 - February 3, 1959

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J.P. Richardson was a Dj/Singer/Songwriter best known for his song Chantilly Lace.

Richardson was coming down with the flu on the evening of Feb 2nd, 1959. Waylon Jennings agreed to give Richardson his seat on the plane so that Richardson could get some much needed rest and recover from the illness. Richardson died along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in the February 3rd plane crash.

The Big Bopper - Chantilly Lace

Waylon Jennings

"Well I hope your ol' plane crashes."

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Waylon Jennings

Buddy Holly Band Member

Bassist For Buddy Holly.

Waylon Jennings was the bassist for Buddy Holly on the night of the plane crash and was supposed to be on the plane. He escaped death when he gave his seat up to an ill J.P. Richardson.

Jennings would later recount his last conversation with Holly.... that night Buddy Holly was teasing Jennings about giving up his seat on the plane and riding the tour bus instead. Holly said to Jennings "I hope your ol' bus freezes up" ...Jennings jokingly replied back "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes". An exchange that would haunt Jennings for years.

Waylon Jennings passed away February 13, 2002.

An interview segment with Jennings, about that day, can be read here.

The Day The Music Died

Footage with Waylon Jennings interveiw (among others). Brief footage of the plane crash.

(Footage may be upsetting to some viewers)

About The Plane Crash - The Day The Music Died

The plane was a Beechnut Bonanza, model 35

Shortly after 1 am central time the plane crashed 5 miles NW of Clear Lake, Iowa.

The property the plane crashed on was owned by Albert Juhl.

The wreckage was discovered around 9:30am by the planes owner, Jerry Dwyer.

The bodies of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson were all thrown from the plane. It took rescue crews 2 hours to retreive the body of the pilot, Roger Peterson, from the wreckage.

The official cause of the crash was deemed "Pilot Error".

Pictures and footage from the plane crash

The Day The Music Died Poll - Where Were You?

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Do you remember February 3rd, 1959, The Day The Music Died? Were you alive? Were you old enough to remember?

Do You Remember The Day The Music Died?

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If you do remember The Day The Music Died, please share your thoughts and memories about that day.

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Don McLean - American Pie

Some people think the plane that crashed with Buddy Holly aboard was named American Pie, hence the title of the Don McLean song that is about that terrible day and spawned the phrase "The Day The Music Died". In fact, the plane had no name and was known only by N3794N which appeared on it's wing.

McLean's 1971 song, American Pie, was in part written about the Buddy Holly plane crash, but is also reported to reference other important events from the late 50's through the 60's. Although McLean himself doesn't like to comment much on the songs meaning.

American Pie - Day The Music Died Video

Where were you? How did you find out? - The Day The Music Died

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    • sjgriffith profile image

      sjgriffith 4 years ago

      I was 9 years old but I remember watching all 3 on American bandstand I watched it every week. Great lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I was only 6 years old, but loved to watch American Bandstand. That is how i found out about the plane crash. My mother she could not believe how much it upset me at that age. I remember seeing Buddy, Ritchie, and J P, all 3 on American Bandstand

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I am too young to remember the crash, but I do remember the songs. A well written lens that covers all the aspects. Blessed today :)

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Nicely crafted lens ~ I was not born when this unfortunate event occurred, but I have listened to their popular songs. **Blessed by a Squid-Angel**

    • Sami4u LM profile image

      Sami4u LM 6 years ago

      Hi,

      Have you heard the song Tommy Dee - Three Stars? Check it out. Blessed :)