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Music history national holiday: The Day the Music Died

There are many historical moments in music history that have touched our lives and hearts over the years. Some have been new releases, stars and events that we have shared together and alone. All these accomplishments throughout the years have shown us how music has evolved and been a big part of our lives. There was one day that will always be remembered for it ended in tragedy. Now history has set aside a national holiday so no one will ever forget “The Day the Music Died” which is celebrated each year on February 3 in many ways by individuals all over the world.

The Day the Music Died!
Bill Crider

It was January 1959, Ritchie Valens, Dion and the Belmont’s, Buddy Holly and Crickets as well as the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) set out to do a tour. The tour was called “The Winter Dance Party”. During these twenty four days this group would visit many mid-western states where the weather was several degrees below zero.

February 3, 1959 is a day we will always remember. Forever in our hearts it will be remembered as “The Day the Music Died!”

Along the way there were some problems. First the bus that they used had a heating system that did not work. With the freezing temperature outside it was difficult for everyone to keep warm and many came down with frostbite. Carl, Buddy Holly’s drummer wound up with frostbitten feet and then had to leave the tour.

There were two shows scheduled for February 1, 1959. After those performances they were supposed to go to Clear Lake, Iowa. By the time they arrived in Iowa the group was starting to get edgy from all the problems that they dealt with in getting there.

The next stop was to be Fargo, North Dakota. Buddy Holly decided to lease a plane to avoid another freezing bus trip. Dwyer’s Flying Service was called and arrangements were made for the next evening. The owner Jerry Dwyer was unavailable so one of the pilots working for him, Roger Peterson agreed to fly the plane.

Buddy Holly, Tommy Allsup (guitarist) and Waylon Jennings (bassist) were supposed to board the plane. At the last minute the Big Bopper asked Waylon to swap seats with him because he was suffering with the flu and the bus trip would have been too much for him again. Waylon Jennings agreed and drove back with all the other band members.

Ritchie Valens also asked guitarist Tommy Allsup to switch with him. They hemmed and hawed and decided to flip a coin. The loser, as they chided with each other would have to remain on the cold bus. Tommy Allsup lost the coin toss and Ritchie Valens was another one of the three passengers to board the plane. And of course, Buddy Holly had his seat on the plane that he leased himself.

Before the plane departed Buddy Holly was joking with Waylon Jennings. Buddy said, “I hope your bus gets stuck in a ditch” and Waylon responded by saying to Buddy, “I hope your plane crashes”. Neither of them wanted to ride that freezing bus. Joking about it seemed right at the time. Years later, Waylon Jennings, in interviews has said that those words he spoke that chilly night has always haunted him.

The evening of February 2, 1959 the plane took off. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were heading to North Dakota. By this time the owner of Dwyer’s Flying Service, Jerry Dwyer, was at the small airstrip and noticed the take off seemed a bit shaky. When he was able to get to the radio he called in to the plane but there was no answer. He then made a call into Fargo’s airfield to see if the plane had indeed landed. He was told no, it didn’t.

Jerry became worried and decided to take out another plane to search for the one that took off with the musicians. He found the plane some eight miles outside of Clear Lake where it took off. The plane crashed into a corn field and everyone on board was killed instantly from the crashes impact. The date was: “February 3, 1959.”

Years later Don McLean wrote a song titled “American Pie”. The song is actually a ballad, inspired by the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. It also contains a segment of Don McLean’s own life experiences. The song was recorded on May 26, 1971 and was the longest number one hit of all time. In time the song “American Pie” was also referred to as “The Day the Music Died” from a line in the chorus.

The Annotated American Pie - By Rick Kulawiec

Here the words of the entire song are written out with the meanings of what each line in the song stood for.


To the left is a video called “Don McLean – American Pie”. It includes the lyrics to the song. Listen and sing along if you can.

There are two other videos that you can watch and listen to. The titles and links are listed below.

Buddy Holly – That’ll be the Day

The Story behind American Pie

© 2014 Beverly Mucha / All Rights Reserved

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