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The Day the Music Died

Updated on June 27, 2015
Buddy Holly.
Buddy Holly. | Source

Buddy Holly - February 3, 1959 - the Day the Music Died

February 3rd, 1959, is referred to as 'the day the music died'. It was on this day that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper - and let's not forget the young pilot Roger Peterson - were killed when their chartered plane crashed in Iowa. I'm too young to remember Buddy Holly (just) But I do know his music well and so it was a shock to discover how he - and his fellow musicians - died.

The boys, because that's all they were - just youngsters - had chartered the plane to get to their next gig. They were touring in a bus in appalling weather conditions and were totally fed up of the cold, damp and overcrowded transport. They were touring a total of twenty four cities in the space of three weeks, so the bus journeys were becoming tedious at best. There were sixteen musicians in total and the bus also had to transport their luggage and their instruments.

Soon after the plane had taken off from Clear Lake, the charter company lost radio contact and the following morning, he reported this to the authorities. The owner of the charter company took off in his own light aircraft and spotted the wreckage just six miles from the airport.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Tour bus.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Tour bus. | Source
Buddy Holly's plane. The report.
Buddy Holly's plane. The report. | Source

On the plane

  • Buddy Holly, 22
  • Ritchie Valens, 17
  • J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, 28
  • Roger Peterson, 21

This will give you goosebumps

The wreckage of Buddy Holly's plane.
The wreckage of Buddy Holly's plane. | Source

Did you know?

  • Waylon Jennings, who was also on the tour, was supposed to be on the plane. He gave up his place to The Big Bopper who was suffering from flu. A lucky miss.
  • Musicians Tommy Allsup and Ritchie Valens tossed a coin to determine who should have a seat on the plane.
  • Dion DiMucci had intended to be on the plane but decided at the last minute that he couldn't afford the fare.
  • The gig at Clear Lake wasn't originally on the tour's schedule. It was arranged at the last minute by the promoters.
  • Holly had been married for six months when he died. His widow claimed that she was pregnant and miscarried when she heard the news.
  • The Big Bopper's wife was also pregnant at the time of the accident. She had a son, Jay, who had his father's body exhumed in 2007. This was to put paid to the rumors that he had survived the accident but died when trying to fetch help. It was found that all four men had been killed instantly.
  • The remaining musicians who had taken the bus, didn't cancel the tour but decided that 'the show must go on'.
  • On the same day as the plane crash, a commercial plane with 73 people aboard crashed into the East River in New York and B47 bomber crashed in Arkansas. Another commercial aircraft avoided disaster when it leveled off after a mysterious 30,000 ft dive towards the ocean. Actor Gene Kelly was one of the passengers.
  • Two months after the crash, a gun belonging to Holly, was found near the crash site. This started speculation that an accidental discharge could have caused the plane to crash.
  • Although weather advisories had been issued, the pilot wasn't told about them - and yet a blizzard was approaching. Snow was on the ground when the plane took off but the sky remained clear.
  • When he died, Holly had only had one hit record. He took on the tour because he was in trouble financially. After his death, demo tapes were released and he shot to fame, firstly in the UK. George Harrison and John Lennon were influenced greatly by their early exposure to his recordings.

I missed the Buddy Holly era

I'm pretty old but I was just a toddler when he died - I don't remember it. But when my brother was in his teens he joined a band and they used to perform Holly songs. That was the first time I'd heard of him. Then I looked into it and discovered the tragedy. How sad it is that so many musicians lost their lives at an early age.

I'm a fairly nonchalant air traveler, it's not something that bothers me, but it the fifties it was still a relatively new technology. There were so many entertainers who died in air crashes in those early days. Glenn Miller comes to mind, as does Carole Lombard, Patsy Kline, Jim Reeves, Jim Croce, Ricky Nelson and several others. So sad. I guess 'the music died' on more than one occasion....

Further reading

The story fascinates me. I don't remember it but in later life I was intrigued by the story of this tragedy. Read more.

Prefer to watch?

Here's a great opportunity to buy two tremendous films together.

Buddy Holly Story, the / La Bamba - Set
Buddy Holly Story, the / La Bamba - Set

Here we have two excellent (and classic) movies that are sold together in one bargain package. Travel back to the fifties, enjoy the music and learn more about the day the music died in February 1959.

This set gets a 4.6 star rating at Amazon out of a possible 5. You can buy this as a gift with confidence.



I don't know exactly why but I'm pretty sure that his music will live forever. Doesn't it simply have that certain something?

It's an important part of any serious musical collection.

Photography credits

All photographs via Wikipedia Commons - bus image Joe Mabel.


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    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Brite-ideas - thank you so much,Barbara. What a sad yet fascinating story.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      wonderful tribute to Buddy Holly, a legend and forever young

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      Hi @CherylsArt - it was a terrible accident, wasn't it? As you say, such a lot of great music.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      I didn't realize that so many others had passed that way. There was a lot of great music.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Digory LM: Thanks for visiting!

    • Digory LM profile image

      Digory LM 4 years ago

      Love this lens. I never knew the facts related to the crash. Thanks.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @lesliesinclair: Aren't they? It was almost like another world in those days. We've come a long way.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Wow - those photos of the bus (weren't those the days) and the plane wreck are potent.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Dusty2 LM: It's a great lens - as soon as I saw the title I thought how wonderful peach salsa must be. It's on my list to make soon!

    • Dusty2 LM profile image

      Dusty2 LM 4 years ago

      Great tribute lens to a fantastic musician and legend. Thank You for stopping by my Peach Salsa Recipe lens and giving it a big "thumbs up" as I really appreciate it. Happy Valentine's Day! (^_^)