Holly’s pregnant wife, María Elena, learned of his death via a television news report. A widow after only six months of marriage, she suffered a miscarriage the following day, reportedly due to “psychological trauma”. Holly’s mother, on hearing the news on the radio at home in Lubbock, Texas, screamed and collapsed. In the months following the crash, authorities would adopt a policy against releasing victims’ names until after the families had been notified.
Despite the tragedy, the “Winter Dance Party” tour did not stop. Fifteen year old Bobby Vee was given the task of filling in for Holly at the next scheduled performance in Moorhead, MN in part because he “knew all the words to all the songs” (Source: “Bobby Vee Biography”. bobbyvee.net. Paragraph 3. Retrieved February 3, 2019). Jennings and Allsup carried on for two more weeks, with Jennings taking Holly’s place as lead singer (Source: Carr, Joseph; Munde, Alan (1997). Prairie Nights to Neon Lights: The Story of Country Music in West Texas. Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 978-0-89672-365-8). Other teen sensations were added to the tour including 18-year-old Frankie Avalon.
Meanwhile, funerals for the victims were held individually. Holly and Richardson were buried in Texas, Valens in California, and Peterson in Iowa. Holly’s widow, María Elena, did not attend the funeral and has reportedly never visited his gravesite. She later said in an interview: “In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane” (Source: Kerns, William (August 15, 2008). “Buddy and Maria Elena Holly married 50 years ago”. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Archived from the original on March 23, 2016. Retrieved April 29, 2015).
Charles Hardin Holley, known professionally as Buddy Holly, was 22 years old when he died in the plane crash and was a main pioneer of rock and roll in the 1950’s despite a career which lasted just a year and a half. Along with his band The Crickets, he had many hits including ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and ‘Everyday’. Despite the short career, Holly’s influence on early rock ‘n’ roll was almost unmatched. He was barely out of high school when he opened for Elvis Presley in 1955 and influenced such big artists as The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Additionally, the first Rolling Stones single released in the U.S. was cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’. Buddy Holly was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Jiles Perry “J.P.” Richardson who became better known as “The Big Bopper” was notorious for his “rockabilly” style. His 1958 song ‘Chantilly Lace’ went to number six on the pop charts and he wrote the song called ‘White Lightning” recorded by singer George Jones and it climbed to number one on the country charts in early 1959. He was 28 years old at the time of the crash. In 2007, the body of Richardson was exhumed for reburial in a different part of the cemetery. This was due to the State of Texas Historical Sign being awarded to the “The Big Bopper”, and a bronze statue would subsequently be erected at his grave. The Forest Lawn cemetery (Beaumont, TX) did not allow above-ground monuments at that specific site; therefore, his body was to be moved to another area that was better suited. Richardson’s son, Jay Perry, took this opportunity to have his father’s body re-examined to verify the original coroner’s findings. There were rumors surrounding the accident that there had been an accidental gunshot on board the aircraft, causing the crash, after a farmer discovered a .22 caliber pistol at the crash site which allegedly belonged to Buddy Holly. Another rumor claimed Richardson survived the initial impact of the crash, and crawled out in search for help, as his body was found a greater distance from the wreckage. Several X-rays of Richardson’s body concluded that the musician died instantly, no traces of lead were found from any bullet, nor any indication that any shot was fired.
Richard Steven Valenzuela, known professionally as Ritchie Valens, was a Mexican American singer and guitarist and despite a very short career of only eight months had several big hits including ‘Donna’ and most notably “La Bamba’ which he had adapted from a Mexican folk song. Valens was just 17 years old when he died on that fateful February 3rd of 1959 and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
The song “American Pie” written by American singer and songwriter Don McLean was released on the “American” Pie album in 1971. It reached number one on the charts in the US during 1972 and stayed there at number one for four weeks. Ultimately, it would be listed as the number 5 song on the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)’s “Song of the Century” project. In 2017, McLean’s original recording was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”. The repeatedly mentioned phrase “the day the music died” refers to the plane crash on February 3rd, 1959 that killed Buddy Holly, “The Big Bopper”, Ritchie Valens and pilot Roger Peterson. The crash was not known by that name until after McLean’s song became a hit, but, from here on out, February 3rd, 1959 will be remembered as “The Day the Music Died”.
Video (courtesy YouTube) of “American Pie” by Don McLean (with lyrics).
Meteorologist Paul Dorian