Remembering the Day the Music Died

The artists were at the beginning of their careers, yet already beloved the world over

Don McLean memorialized the tragic event in his song, “American Pie.” On February 3, 1959, the world lost musicians Buddy Holly, J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and pilot Roger Peterson in a plane crash after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. The artists were at the beginning of their careers, yet already beloved the world over for songs like Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” and Valens’s “La Bamba.”

Lubbock, Texas-born Charles “Buddy” Holley (he dropped the “e” after a typo in his first recording contract) is considered one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important innovators. The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards once described his legacy this way: “Holly passed it on via the Beatles and via us. He’s in everybody,” he said. “Not bad for a guy from Lubbock, right?”

Here are three ways to honor that guy’s memory.

Visit Holly’s Hometown
Let the oversize glasses guide your way to the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. Inside the gallery, you’ll see the musician’s signature pair on display. Each February 3, the gallery allows patrons free admission, which includes access to the childhood home of Jerry (J.I.) Allison, Holly’s best friend who co-wrote “That’ll Be the Day.” Want to pay your respects? Visit Holly’s gravesite at the City of Lubbock Cemetery, where each year, staff members leave a spray of yellow roses in his memory.

photo: Courtesy of the Buddy Holly Center

An oversize replica of Buddy Holly’s iconic glasses.

photo: Library of Congress; Billy Hathorn, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From left: A statue honors Holly in his hometown; Buddy Holly Avenue sign.

See His Life Brought to the Stage
The musical Buddy–The Buddy Holly Story features more than twenty Holly hits and chronicles his short-lived career—he died less than two years after his songs hit airwaves. Stage productions are scheduled this week in Florida, through February 21 at The Legacy Theatre, in Tyrone, Georgia, and are coming soon to theaters in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

Hear Holly’s Influence
In addition to listening to classic Holly tracks—“Everyday” and “Peggy Sue”—take some time to check out covers from artists he inspired. Ever hear Stevie Nicks’s version of “Not Fade Away”? The Black Keys covered “Dearest” and Justin Townes Earle gives a soulful interpretation of “Maybe Baby.” They’re worth a listen.