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Rock Hall Anniversary: The Day the Music Died

The term, “The Day the Music Died” has many references, from a lyric in Don McLean 1972 classic “American Pie” to the various passings of music artists including John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston. But the term was coined by a tragedy that happened 55 years ago.

It was on February 3rd, 1959 that three of the biggest artists of the time, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa along with the pilot. It was during the Winter Dance Party Tour throughout the upper Midwest, where the three were performing. It was hit with various mishaps, including the fact the tour was occurring through extreme cold weather, with resulted in everything from a few musicians coming down with the flu, and even one hospitalized for severe frostbite.

Following a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Holly decided to charter a plane to go to Fargo, North Dakota. The plane initially was for him and his band, but members Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup wound up giving their seats to the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, while the $36 fare kept Dion from boarding. The plane took off in the early hours of February 3rd, and within minutes crashed into a frozen cornfield killing all onboard. Holly was 22, the Big Bopper was 28, and Valens was only 17.

An investigation from the Civil Aeronautics Board Investigators would later determine, there was no foul play, and the crash was a result of poor weather and pilot error. Numerous tributes to the three fallen musicians followed in ensuing years, including biopics for both Holly and Ritchie, commemorations from artists including Don McLean and Weezer, a stainless steel monument (depicting a guitar and three records bearing the musicians’ names and biggest hits) erected at the crash site, and memorial concerts at the Surf Ballroom, that have taken place since 1979, and does to this day.