The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died is a celebration to honor the famous singers who died in an airplane crash. They are the rock and roll musicians J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Richie Valens, and Buddy Holly who died in 1959.

The commemoration happens every third day of February annually. The singers were quite famous in the 50’s generation. They were mourned by many people after the accident near Clear Lake, Iowa.

The singer-songwriter Don McLean referred to the accident in his 1971 song “American Pie” dubbing it as “The Day the Music Died.” The event later became known as The Day the Music Died which symbolizes the “loss of innocence” of the early rock and roll generation for McLean.

The artists are on tour during that time, and after stopping at Clear Lake to perform, Holly chose to charter a plane to reach their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota. It was late at night and there were poor freezing weather conditions. After the takeoff, the pilot Roger Peterson lost control of the light aircraft called Beechcraft Bonanza which subsequently crashed into a cornfield.

Everyone on board was killed. Due to their fame, the event has been mentioned in various songs and films. A number of monuments have been created at the crash site. An annual memorial concert is held at Surf Ballroom where the late singers used it as the venue which they hosted and became their last performance.

Crash site

Holly, Valens and Richardson’s fans have been gathering for annual memorial concerts at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake since the year 1979. The 50th-anniversary concert took place on February 2 in 2009. Many artists participate in the event including Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely, Wanda Jackson, Chris Montez, Bobby Vee, Graham Nash, Tommy Allsup, the British duo Peter and Gordon and rock bands Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys and a house band featuring Chuck Leavell, James “Hutch” Hutchinson, Bobby Keys, and Kenny Aronoff.

The son of the late Big Bopper, Jay P. Richardson was also among the participants and Bob Hale was the master of ceremonies as he was at the 1959 concert tour of the late rock and roll singers.

A four-foot tall granite memorial bearing the names of Peterson, Big Bopper, Holly and Valens was dedicated outside the Surf Ballroom in June 1988. The memorial was attended by Peterson’s widow, parents, and sister and the event is marked as the first time that the families of the three entertainers had gathered together.

Ken Paquette is a Wisconsin fan of the 1950s era, and he made a stainless-steel monument that shows a guitar. The monument also depicts a set of three records with the names of the three artists killed in the accident in 1989. The monument is built on a private farmland about north of Clear Lake.

Paquette also made another similar stainless-steel monument of the three musicians. The monument is set up outside the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay, Wisconsin where Holly, the Big Bopper, and Valens played their second to last show on the night of February 1, 1959, that is included on their concert tour. This second memorial by Paquette was unveiled to the public on July 17, 2003.

Paquette also made a memorial for pilot Roger Peterson in February 2009 and was unveiled at the crash site. At the access point to the crash site, sits a large plasma-cut steel set of Wayfarer-style glasses constructed by Michael Connor of Clear Lake. Now, much known as Buddy Holly Place is the road near the Surf Ballroom extending north and passing to the west of the crash site.

Many songs have been made to commemorate the famous rock and roll singers. They are not just singers, for many they are legends that gave great impact to the music industry. Remembering the late artists by making memorial concerts makes the event, The Day Music Died, a bittersweet celebration.