The Day The Music Died

  • February 3, 1959

    In the early morning hours on Tuesday, February 3, 1959, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson along with their pilot Roger Peterson died in a plane crash. The singers signed on to be a part of “The Winter Dance Party” tour with 24 concerts over a 3 week period in the Midwest.

    The singers finished up a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2nd. The To escape the freezing cold bus for the trip to their next gig in Moorhead, Minnesota, Buddy Holly hired a local plane to take him to nearby Fargo, North Dakota. There was room for two additional passengers on the plane. The two seats were originally intended for members of Holly’s band, Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings. Ritchie won Allsup’s seat in a coin toss and the Big Bopper convinced Jennings to let him have his seat on the plane because he was feeling ill.

    The flight was scheduled to depart the Mason City airport at 12:30am. The pilot was young at 21-years old, but had four years of experience. Unfortunately he was unaware of a weather advisory that had been issued before the plane took off. The plane crashed about five miles from where where it took off.

    The news of the crash shocked the country. Ritchie was only 17 years old when he died. Even in his short career, Ritchie recorded numerous hits and would leave an indelible mark on music for years to come. In 1971, Don McLean penned the song “American Pie,” which immortalized the crash as “the day the music died.”

    On February 3, 1959, Mama said “God needed him more than we did.” Three great talents were lost that day. The music lives on, the families remember and tell their stories.

  • Original Poster

    From the concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clearlake, Iowa.

    Ritchie performing

    At the Winter Dance Party, the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa.

    Ritchie, Dion and the Big Bopper

    On the Winter Dance Party Tour.

    Buddy Holly

    The Big Bopper

    Waylon Jennings

    Buddy Holly with Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup


    Of Ritchie, Buddy, Big Bopper and Dion from January 25, 1959.

    Mama’s note

    This note from Mama was found in Ritchie’s coat pocket at the crash site.

    The crash site

    Memorial designed by Ken Paquette

    The guitar came first, then the records were added. Thank you to all the fans that have maintained it and braved the cold to visit it.


    Erected in memory of Ritchie, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. Also honored is the pilot Rodger Peterson. The memorial sits in front of the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the site of their last performance.

    "Donna" Gold Record

    Bob Kean presents Mama with Ritchie’s gold record for "Donna".

    Birthday Memorial

    Ritchie would have celebrated his 18th birthday on May 13, 1959. Pictured is Bob Morales, Herb Marte, Mama and Bob Keane.

    Watch the video

    50th Anniversary Story by CBS