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“The Day the Music Died” Remembered

Rock and Roll tragedy memorialized in Don McLean song


By Steven O’Brien

Today, 51 years ago, was “The Day the Music Died,” the phrase immortalized in American folk singer/songwriter Don McLean’s 1972 hit “American Pie.”

Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash 51 years ago today, on Feb. 3, 1959, with his pilot and fellow rock and rollers Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. The tragedy is immortalized in singer/songwriter Don McLean's 1972 hit "American Pie."


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The tune has been called a metaphor for the loss of innocence in America, inspired by, and about, the untimely deaths of rock and rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Jr. They were killed in a plane crash Feb. 3, 1959 along with the plane’s pilot, Roger Paterson, in a snowy field in the middle of Iowa just a short while after 1 a.m. 

Holly and his companions hopped on the plane to Moorhead, Minnesota, the next stop on their Winter Dance Party Tour, following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Peterson was reportedly tired after coming off a 17-hour shift, but agreed to fly the famous rockers anyway. At 12:30 a.m., he received clearance from the tower to take off. The aircraft was only airborne for a short while before crashing into a snowy cornfield, where its passengers’ bodies laid overnight. The weather kept responders from getting to the crash site until the next morning.

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