February 3, 2015

In February 1959, a paperboy delivered newspapers with a story about a plane crash in Iowa.

About a decade later, the paperboy, Don McLean, described the day in his song, “American Pie.”

He began by remembering the papers he delivered:

A long long time ago,
I can still remember how,
That music used to make me smile.

And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance,
And maybe they’d be happy for a while.

But February made me shiver,
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

On February 3, 1959, the media reported that musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) had died in a plane crash. The pilot, Roger Peterson, was also killed.

The plane crashed around 1 a.m., just a few hours after they had performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

In addition to radio and TV stories, the news was delivered in afternoon papers later that day.

Mason City (Iowa) Globe-Gazette, February 3, 1959

Mason City (Iowa) Globe-Gazette, February 3, 1959

WatchMojo.com’s video includes biographies of the musicians and information about the crash:

“On February 2, 1959, Holly and his tour mates were on the eleventh night of their Winter Dance Party tour through the snow-covered Midwest. It was a Monday — a school night — but 1,100 teenagers crammed into Clear Lake, Iowa’s Surf Ballroom for two sold out shows.

They wore blue jeans and saddle shoes and screamed for 17-year-old Richie Valens, whose single ‘Donna’ was about to go gold. Between sets, Holly solicited people to join him on the charter airplane he’d hired to fly to the next show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The musicians had been traveling by bus for over a week and it had already broken down once. They were tired, they hadn’t been paid yet and all of their clothes were dirty. With the airplane, Holly could arrive early, do everyone’s laundry and catch up on some rest.

A 21-year-old pilot named Roger Peterson had agreed to take the singer to Fargo, North Dakota — the closest airport to Moorehead….The three musicians boarded the red and white single-engine Beech Bonanza around 12:30 on Feb. 3….The plane stayed in the sky for only a few minutes; no one is quite sure what went wrong. The best guess is that Peterson flew directly into the blizzard….”

— “A Brief History of The Day the Music Died
Time Magazine, February 3, 2009

AP story excerpt in the Carrol (Iowa) Daily Times Herald, February 3, 1959

AP story excerpt in the Carrol (Iowa) Daily Times Herald, February 3, 1959

Buddy Holly appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show almost exactly a year before his performance in Iowa.

He sang “Oh, Boy!” on the Sullivan show, which was one of the last songs he performed at the Surf Ballroom before leaving for his plane flight.

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