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February 4, 2020

February 3, 1959: The Day the Music Died: Photos From the Plane Crash That Killed Buddy Holly and Others in Iowa

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.


  1. It was sad! I graduated that Spring and over the years have played Buddy Holly's music over and over again. I still have a collection of his music on CD. For the Big Bopper, I still smile when I attempt to to sing "Chantilly Lace and a pretty face with a pony-tail hanging down...with a wiggle in her walk and a giggle in her talk, makes the world go around...!" And Richie Valens' song of 'Donna', if my memory serves me right, will always be remembered. Yes, it was a sad day in the winter of 1959.

  2. I was 12 years old when I heard the news and to this day (61 years later) I can remember where I was and who I was with!! I guess you would call me a Fan!

  3. The news came in as I was home and getting ready to watch American Bandstand. It was 8 days before my 13th birthday. It was sad, so sad. When tragedies take place, it lives on with us for a lifetime.

  4. I was in the 9th grade. I remember as we were leaving music class, two girls came in crying. One of them was sobbing: "Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper - all dead!" When we entered the cafeteria for lunch we learned what had happened. I think the Feld Tour Company is largely responsible for this tragedy. Retired, poorly-heated school buses for transportation, traveling 100's of miles in the night between gigs, never able to sleep in a bed or get a shower or wash your clothes. Nothing but hamburgers & hot dogs to eat. It must have been awful. Even worse, we lost a tremendous amount of musical talent.




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