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Research Project by Ray Keith FA13
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Description : The Day the Music Died
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The Day The Music Died


     A.  The Day The Music Died

   The Three Stars

     A.  Buddy Holly
     B.  Ritchie Valens
     C. The Big Bopper

   Top 40 Hits

     A.  Buddy Holly
     B.  Ritchie Valens
     C,  The BIg Bopper

   Winter Dance Party

     A.  Preparation for the Tour
     B.  Tour Details
     C.  Irony

   February 3, 1959

   Music Tributes

  A.  Tommy Dee
      B.  Don McLean

   Gone But Not Forgotten

      A.  The Music Did Not Die




In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, a private plane took off from Clear Lake Iowa with three passengers and the pilot.  The flight was scheduled to fly to Moorhead, Minnesota.  Approximately five miles into the trip, the aircraft crashed near a cornfield.   The pilot and the three passengers were all killed.  The passengers were identified as Buddy Holly, age 22; Ritchie Valens, age 17; and Jiles P. Richardson (known as The Big Bopper) age 28.  The three were rapidly becoming teen idols in the world of early rock and roll music. Buddy Holly had already achieved significant success as a performer and both Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were up and coming singers destined to become stars.  Over the years after the crash,  the event became known as The Day The Music Died.

This paper will provide information about the three performers and the events leading up to the crash.  The paper will also document that the newspapers and music industry were wrong.  The music did not die and continued to live on even to this day.


                                Buddy Holly

By 1958, Buddy Holly (Buddy Holley), had already achieved musical success.  Buddy's interest in music started as a young school boy but did not develop until After graduating from high school in 1955.  He and a group of friends started performing at local events around Lubbock, TX.  The group performed as opening acts for Bill Haley and an unknown Elvis Presley on consecutive nights.  In 1956 Holly wrote the song "That'll be the Day'".  The song was finally recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets and released by Brunswick records in early 1957.  By July 1957, the record broke into the Billboard top 100 and subsequently became a number one seller.  Holly and the Crickets continued to record several hit records together until 1958.  Disagreements as to the direction the group was going, caused them to breakup and they each pursued individual careers.  

                                   Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens (Richard Steven Valenzuela) was a teenager from Southern California.  At Age 16, he joined his first band and played at venues throughout the local area.  In May 1958 Valens recorded the song  "Come On, Let Go" which became a regional hit.  With that limited success, later in 1958 he recorded a song called "Donna" which he wrote for his high school girlfriend.  The record's "B" side was the song "La Bamba".   The songs became national hits and launched his career.  Prior to joining the tour that would end his life, Valens performed on American Bandstand and Alan Freed's Christmas Show shortly before beginning his last tour.

                                  The Big Bopper

The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richard, Jr.) was the senior member of the tour at the age of 28.  His career began in radio as a disc jockey/announcer for a radio station in Beaumont, TX.  It was at that station where he was nicknamed The Big Bopper.  Richardson's real love was writing songs.  He started writing as a young boy and continued to write up until his death.  Notable songs included "White Lighting" recorded by George Jones and "Running Bear" recorded by Johnny Preston.  He also wrote his first and biggest hit "Chantilly Lace".  It was the popularity of that song that allowed him to be included in the tour that led to his death.       




                                             THAT’LL BE THE DAY                     8/19/1957                          #1

                                             PEGGY SUE                                      11/11/1957                        #3

                                             OH BOY                                             12/2/1957                          #10

                                             MAYBE BABY                                   3/10/1958                          #17

                                             RAVE ON                                           6/9/1958                            #37

                                             THINK IT OVER                                8/4/1958                            #27

                                             EARLY IN THE MORNING               8/11/1958                          #32

                                             IT DOESN’T MATTER…                  3/9/1959                            #13 


                                                      DONNA                                              12/15/1958                       #2

                                                      LA BAMBA                                       1/19/1959                         #22                                                                                               




       CHANTILLY LACE                             8/4/1958                            #6

              BIG BOPPER’S WEDDING              12/22/1958                       #38   





Preparation For The Tour

During the summer of 1958, General Artists Corporation (GAC) promoted a tour of young and upcoming music stars and called it The Summer Dance Party.  It was a two week tour that grossed about $50,000.  With the success of that tour, GAC made the decision to form and promote another similar show which they named The Winter Dance Party.  The tour was scheduled to include 24 one night concerts starting on January 23, 1959 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Itinerary would take the group through several Midwestern States ending in Springfield, IL.  

In December 1958, GAC began assembling the talent for the tour and the financial details.  Final performer list included:

Buddy Holly---$3000-$3500 a week, which he shared with his band.
Dion and the Belmonts---$1000-$1200 a week.
Ritchie Valens---$700-$800 a week.
The Big Bopper---$700-$800 a week
Frankie Sardo---No financial data available

Prior to the tour, Holly and the Crickets ended their relationship to pursue different career paths.  This forced Holly to recruit new members to play in his band for the tour.  Holly chose three of his old friends to replace the Crickets. They were Tommy Allsup playing the guitar; Carl Bunch playing drums; and Waylon Jennings playing Bass.

  The Tour Begins

Holly and his "new" crickets boarded a train bound for Chicago to meet with the rest of the performers.  Once in Chicago,  the group boarded  their tour bus which resembled a school bus and started for Milwaukee where their first concert was scheduled that evening.   The tour began on an auspicious note by getting lost and arriving at the ballroom 90 minutes after the show was scheduled to start.  The impatient crowd was getting restless. Nonetheless, everyone was looking forward to getting their first performance behind them.  Overall, the tour was well received.     The next show, in Kenosha, WI was a big hit with the young audience.  Then reality set in with the group boarding their bus after the show for a 381 mile overnight trip to Mankato, Minnesota.  The tour continued with a series of one night shows throughout the Upper Midwest.  Small hotels, the tour bus and the show venues became there way of life.  Before long the performers fell into a routine while traveling on the bus.  Card-playing, story telling and napping helped them pass the time between cities.  The weather had been very cold but not much snow.  The group played to full venues and spirits were high.

As the tour entered its 2nd week, things began to change.  The bitter cold and a faulty heating system on the converted school bus was causing tempers to flare among the performers.  Despite the growing tensions, the bus continued on to stop number 9 in Duluth, Minnesota.  After the show the troupe faced an all night bus ride to the next destination.  An hour into the trip, the bus died and left everyone stranded on the highway for several hours. The long delay forced the cancellation of the next afternoon's show in Appleton,WI.  . Instead, they proceeded to Green Bay, WI that was scheduled for the same night.  Everyone was forced to seek separate transportation to Green Bay.  Some the group went by Greyhound while others traveled by train.  Casualties associated with the bus breakdown included Richardson who had become sick with a bad cold and drummer Carl Bunch who was hospitalized with frost bite to both of his feet.  Bunch remained in the hospital for several days. 

The next day the troupe boarded another bus for Clear Lake, IA.  After they arrived at the showroom, Holly started to make inquiries as to possibility of renting an airplane for himself and his 2 band members for the trip to the next venue in Moorhead, MN.  He wanted to reach Moorhead before the rest of the group so he could do some laundry and get a good nights sleep.  The word circulated backstage about Holly's plans.  Richardson, who was still suffering from his cold, approached Waylon Jennings and asked if he would consider giving his seat on the aircraft to Richardson. Jennings agreed if It was okay with Holly.  At about the same time Valens discussed with Tommy Allsup the possibility of him letting Valens take his seat on the airplane.  Allsup refused the request but. Valens continued to press the issue.  Finally they agreed to flip a coin to see who would take the seat.  Allsup flipped a half dollar and Valens called "heads"..........and "heads" it was.  

Shortly afterwards, Holly, Richardson and Valens were driven to the airport where they met their pilot, Roger Peterson.    

                                                The last known picture of Buddy Holly taken during the concert in Clear Lake, IA                        

FEBRUARY 3, 1959

The trio arrived at the small airport shortly before midnight.  They were anxious to get into the air.  Peterson was having second thoughts.  Gusty winds were shaking the Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft as it sat on the tarmac.  Light snow was falling and the overall weather conditions had deteriorated significantly in the last few hours.  Peterson's friends and family had warned him about flying in the current conditions. To further contribute to Peterson's concerns was the fact that he was not proficient in instrument flying.  Nonetheless, his passengers were getting impatient  and encouraged Peterson to take off.  

At approximately 12:50 AM on February 3, 1959 the small plane began to taxi.  As Peterson applied the throttle, the aircraft quickly gained speed and within a few seconds the aircraft was airborne.  Shortly thereafter the plane crashed in a field approximately six miles from the airport.  All on board were killed.  It wasn't until about 9:35 AM that the wreckage was found.

The Civil  Aeronautics Board (CAB) conducted an investigation into the crash. Their findings concluded that the crash was caused by bad weather and pilot error.  The CAB opined that Peterson became visually disoriented because of the snow and the low ceiling.  Peterson apparently didn't realize how low the aircraft was before its right wing struck the ground.  

Below is a news bulletin reporting the crash:

While the events of February 3rd were tragic, The Winter Dance Party still had 8 concert dates before the tour was scheduled to end.  Within hours of the crash GAC officials decided to continue the tour as a tribute to the three lost performers.  GAC contracted with Jimmy Clanton and Frankie Avalon to replace Holly, Valens, and Richardson. Avalon was then replaced for the last two shows by Fabian Forte.  The next show after Clear Lake, IA went on as scheduled.


Tommy Dee

Tommy Dee was a young disc jockey on radio station KFXM in San Bernardino, CA.  After working a midnight shift at the station he learned of the crash.  Dee lived in Bakersfield, CA which was about a 3 hour drive from the radio station.  On his way home that morning he wrote the song "Three stars".  The song was recorded in late February and became a medium sized hit.

Below is a KFXM music survey for the period of March 21-27, 1959.  "Three Stars" was ranked # 3 for that week in the San Bernardino/Riverside area.  Note also at the bottom of the tune sheet, Tommy D is listed as one of the DJs at the station: 

Don McLean

The song that is most associated with the deaths of the trio is a song written and recorded by Don McLean called "American Pie".  The song was recorded on May 26, 1971 but had been written several years earlier.  The song which included the phrase "The day the music died", was intended to be a tribute to Holly, Valens and Richardson. The song, however, never specifically mentioned any of their names.  McLean believed the song symbolized the loss of innocence of the early days of rock and roll.  


The phrase most often used to describe the aftermath of the crash is not accurate.  The music did NOT die that day. The music and the legacy of the three stars continued to flourish with other performers and fans:

---The Beatles claim that the inspiration for their name came from Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

---Buddy Holly songs have been covered by many artists over the decades to include The Rolling Stones, The Everly Brothers, The Greatful Dead, Linda Ronstadt and John Lennon

---Paul McCartney owns the publishing rights to most of Holly's catalogue.

---Songs written by J.P. Richardson before his death were later recorded and became number #1 hits for Country Legend George Jones ("White Lightnin'") and Johnny Preston ("Running Bear").

---Richardson received a gold record for his song "Chantilly Lace".   

---Ritchie Valens received a gold record for his song "Donna".

---The U.S. Postal Service honored both Holly and Valens with postage stamps commemerating their successes in early rock and roll.

---Holly and Valens were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and each have their own star on the  Hollywood Walk of Fame.

---Major Hollywood films depicting the lives and careers of Holly and Valens have been released.

---Interest in the trio lives on today with several "tribute" concerts touring the country and performing to Standing Room Only audiences.  


Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were pioneers in early rock and roll.  Many early rock and roll stars had  short careers.  No one knows if their early success would have continued if they had lived or would they have been replaced by other "teen idols".  In any event, their tragic deaths propelled them into almost teenage folklore heroes.  

What is known, is that their music influenced many performers after them.  Their music continues to live in the hearts of music fans even today.      





Works Cited:

Lehmer, Larry. The Day the Music Died. New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 1977. Print.

Nite, Norm N. Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock N' Roll. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Publishing, 1974. Print.

Whitburn, Joel; The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits 1955 to Present.New York: Billboard Publications, Inc, 1983. Print.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of  Pop, Rock and Soulf, Revised ed. New York: St. Martin's, 1989. Print.

The Day The Music Died. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Web.,

Buddy Holly. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Web.

Big Bopper; "Chantilly Lace". YouTube. 11 Sept 2008. web. 22 Oct 2013. http//

McLean, Don. "American Pie".  YouTube.  8 Mar 2013. web. 18 Sep 2013. http//

Holly, Richardson, Valens Plane Crash News Report. YouTube. 7 Nov 2012. web. 2 Nov 2013. 

Holly, Buddy. "Peggy Sue". YouTube. 28 Aug 2010. web. 22 Oct 2013. http//

The Real Richie Valens. "La Bamba". YouTube. 24 Dec 2008. web. 22 Oct 2013. http//

Dee, Tommy. "three Stars". YouTube. 21 Dec 2008. web. 18 Sep 2013.  http//

February 3, 1959 The Day The Music Died. YouTube. 29 Dec 2007. web. 22 Oct 2013.