The Day the Music Died: The Plane Crash that Claimed Three Rock Legends. The death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper in an Iowa cornfield became known as “The Day the Music Died” after the 1971 Don McLean song.
On February 3, 1959, American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, together with pilot Roger Peterson. The event later became known as “The Day the Music Died”, after singer-songwriter, Don McLean referred to it as such in his 1971 song “American Pie”.
Ritchie Valens, Jiles Perry “J. P.” Richardson, Jr. (also known as The Big Bopper), and Buddy Holly boarded a four-person, single-engine charter plane to get to their next show, they had no idea they would instead be flying into the pages of history.
They, along with their pilot Rodger Peterson and their plane, went down in harsh winter weather barely six miles from the take-off point. It was the first great rock and roll tragedy, and it showed the world that even the fearless young stars of the rebellious music movement were mortal.
At the time, Holly and his band, consisting of Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, and Carl Bunch, were playing on the “Winter Dance Party” tour across the Midwest. Rising artists Valens, Richardson and Dion and the Belmonts had joined the tour as well.
The long journeys between venues on board the cold, uncomfortable tour buses adversely affected the performers, with cases of flu and even frostbite. After stopping at Clear Lake to perform, and frustrated by such conditions, Holly chose to charter a plane to reach their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Richardson, who had the flu, swapped places with Jennings, taking his seat on the plane, while Allsup lost his seat to Valens on a coin toss.
Soon after takeoff, late at night and in poor, wintry weather conditions, the pilot lost control of the light aircraft, a Beechcraft Bonanza, which subsequently crashed into a cornfield. Everyone on board was killed.
The event has since been mentioned in various songs and films. A number of monuments have been erected at the crash site and in Clear Lake, where an annual memorial concert is also held at the Surf Ballroom, the venue that hosted the artists’ last performance.