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Sixty Years After the Music Died


Life + Learning

  • 1950s car radio

Cassidy, Queen's Square | February 1, 2019

On the evening of February 2, 1959, American teenagers in the central Midwest were getting dressed up and heading out for a night of music and dancing at the Surf Ballroom in the small town of Clear Lake, Iowa. It was a cold night, being early February, but the stars coming in to town as part of ‘The Winter Dance Party’ rock n roll tour were hot enough to brave the frigid temperatures to see. On the ticket for the evening were performers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts.

As rock n roll filled the hall and the locals danced the evening away, snow began to fall outside. By the time the last chords had faded, it was clear that the musicians’ ride to their next tour stop on an unheated bus would be a long, chilly trip, and a few of the headliners decided to charter a plane to fly three of them ahead. After some debate, a few trades, and a coin toss, it was decided that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper would fly ahead, while Dion and the Belmonts and the tour’s supporting band members would arrive later by bus.

As the bus-bound band members loaded up and headed out, Buddy, Ritchie and The Big Bopper headed toward the airport, and, around midnight, took off in a small charter plane toward Moorhead, Minnesota, the site of their next concert.

Exactly what happened after the plane took off is still a matter of some debate, but only a few minutes into the trip, radio contact was lost, and the plane never arrived at its destination. The next morning, in the middle of a cornfield just off Highway 35 between Clear Lake and Hanlontown, a layer of soft snow covering the scene, the wreckage of the plane was found, along with the bodies of the four men on board: twenty-one-year-old Roger Peterson, the pilot; twenty-eight-year old Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson Jr. aka “The Big Bopper”; seventeen-year-old Richard Steven Valenzuela aka “Ritchie Valens”, and twenty-two-year-old Charles Hardin Holley aka “Buddy Holly”.

That day, in the early hours of February 3, 1959, music changed. Musician Don McLean would later write about the musical, emotional, and cultural effects the crash had on the generation of young people who identified with the late artists’ work in his hit song American Pie in 1971. And though these prolific pioneers of rock n roll had such tragically brief careers, they laid the foundation for thousands of artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, leaving behind them a legacy that will not fade away.

Sixty Years After the Music Died at Idea Exchange

Join us at Queen’s Square on February 2, sixty years after that fateful last show, as we commemorate The Day the Music Died. Enjoy some of that rock and roll music, learn some 50s dance steps, then join us for a lecture on music history, Buddy Holly, and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. The event runs from 2-4PM, and is free to attend.