On February 3, 1959, American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” J. P. 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.”
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.
Buddy Holly’s funeral was held at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, TX, on February 8, 1959, drawing over a thousand mourners. Holly’s widow did not attend. On the same day, Ritchie Valens was buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery.
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.
Holly’s band, The Crickets, later memorialized the day in 2016 with a farewell and final concert called “The Crickets and Buddies,” where almost every living member of the band Holly helped form played tribute to the vocal legend’s passing.