DEAD: ON THIS DATE
Buddy Holly (aged 22)
American singer-songwriter (That’ll Be the Day)
Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known as Buddy Holly, was an American musician, singer-songwriter and record producer who was a central and pioneering figure of mid-1950s rock and roll. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, to a musical family during the Great Depression, and learned to play guitar and sing alongside his siblings. His style was influenced by gospel music, country music, and rhythm and blues acts, and he performed in Lubbock with his friends from high school. He made his first appearance on local television in 1952, and the following year he formed the group “Buddy and Bob” with his friend Bob Montgomery. In 1955, after opening for Elvis Presley, he decided to pursue a career in music. He opened for Presley three times that year; his band’s style shifted from country and western to entirely rock and roll. In October that year, when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets, he was spotted by Nashville scout Eddie Crandall, who helped him get a contract with Decca Records.
DEATH: The Winter Dance Party tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 23, 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems, as the distance between venues had not been considered when scheduling performances. Adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses twice broke down in freezing weather, with dire consequences. Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch was hospitalized for frostbite to his toes (suffered while aboard the bus), so Holly decided to seek other transportation. Before their appearance in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2, Holly chartered a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza airplane from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa, for Jennings, Allsup, and himself. Holly’s idea was to depart following the show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake and fly to their next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota, via Fargo, North Dakota, allowing them time to rest and launder their clothes and avoid a rigorous bus journey. Immediately after the Clear Lake show (which ended just before midnight), Allsup agreed to flip a coin for the seat with Valens. Valens called heads; when he won, he reportedly said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life,” Allsup later opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas called Heads Up. Waylon Jennings voluntarily gave up his seat to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), who had influenza and complained that the tour bus was too cold and uncomfortable for a man of his size.
The pilot, Roger Peterson, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only. Shortly after 1:00 am on February 3, 1959, Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when their plane crashed into a cornfield five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport shortly after takeoff.