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Staff member
Jan 4, 2009
The Day the Music Died from The Music History Calender

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson are killed in a plane crash. Don McLean would call it "The Day the Music Died" in his 1971 hit "American Pie."

The musicians were heading to Fargo, North Dakota, on a small private plane leaving Clear Lake Iowa, where they had performed as part of the 24-city "Winter Dance Party" tour. They had been travelling by bus, but it got so cold that Holly chartered the plane, a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza.

Shortly after takeoff, the plane goes down; it is snowing and poor visibility likely leads to the crash. Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings, also on the tour, are spared by sheer luck: Allsup lost a coin flip for a seat on the plane to Valens, and Jennings let Richardson have the other seat.

Losing these musical luminaries drastically alters the rock and roll landscape; the "rock era" had begun about four years earlier, and with Elvis Presley in the Army, there are few stars to propel it forward (the British Invasion would revive the genre).

Holly, 22, the headliner on the tour, was a rising star with a #1 hit under his belt ("That'll Be The Day").​
Valens, 17, was one of the hottest new artists at the time, with the song "Donna" on the charts.​

Don McLean, who was a teenager at the time, would call it "The Day the Music Died" in his 1971 hit "American Pie."
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