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Today marks the 55th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, J.P “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens. They died in a plane crash.
February 3, 1959 is a date of infamy for the music world, as the tragedy sent so many icons to rock-and-roll heaven. While on tour, Holly (born Charles Holley), had grown angry with taking a tour bus from state to state, as the poor conditions had left his new (non-Cricket) band-mates ill, and one with a severe case of frostbite. Thinking a plane would be a better option, the gang agreed.
They were able to charter a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza 35, which would take them from Clear Lake, Iowa to Moorhead, Minnesota.
A game of fate ensued, as the final plane roster was up for grabs. Another household name, Dion (of Dion and the Belmonts), didn’t get a seat on the plane because he simply refused to pay the $36 charge. Tommy Allsup lost his spot to Ritchie Valens on a coin toss, states People. “The Big Bopper” had talked his way to the plane, convincing Holly’s band-mate (and country star) Waylon Jennings to surrender his seat and take a bus.
They would never make it out of Iowa.
Jennings describes in his autobiography what has become the most famous story involving the crash. When Holly learned that he would be taking a bus instead, he told him, "Well, I hope your ol' freezes up." To which Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes," an ill-fated quip he said haunted him for the rest of his life.
Holly was only 22, and Buddy Holly & The Crickets had just scored their number 1 single, “That’ll Be the Day." Holly wrote all of his own songs, and would later be an influence on both Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan’s music, explains History.com.
J.P “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, had recording his top 10 rockabilly smash, “Chantilly Lace” a few months prior. Ritchie Valens, at a mere 17 years old, had already recorded such hits as “Donna,” “Come on Lets Go,” “La Bamba" and more.
The first song to memorialize the event was actually Eddie Cochran's "Three Stars," but Don McLean's "American Pie" is most closely linked to the incident; as it's where we got the phrase "the day the music died.” All having died so young and at the peak of their careers, rock and roll would never be the same. The world would never see what they were capable of.