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Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash 60 years ago Sunday


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This Sunday, February 3, marks the 60th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of rock ‘n’ roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The tragedy is commonly known as “The Day the Music Died,” as Don McLean referred to it in his classic 1971 hit, “American Pie.”

In early 1959, Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper were touring the Midwest on the Winter Dance Party tour with Dion and the Belmonts. After a February 2 show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the three musicians hopped in a small plane in nearby Mason City, IA that Holly had chartered to take them the next scheduled tour stop in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Sadly, the plane went down shortly after takeoff, killing all three artists aboard and the pilot. Holly was 22, Richards 28, and Valens just 17.

For many years, the Surf Ballroom has held an annual Winter Dance Party concert series to commemorate the anniversary of Holly, Valens and Richardson’s final concert. This year’s event kicked off Thursday and runs through Saturday.

Thursday’s lineup featured Jay and the Americans and Little Anthony and the Imperials. Friday’s bill includes Frankie Avalon and Brian Wilson‘s daughters Carnie and Wendy.

Saturday’s finale will feature performances by Chubby Checker, Shirelles singer Shirley Allston Reeves, The Chiffons, Brian Hyland, Chris Montez, and Johnny Tillotson.

In 2012, McLean told ABC Radio he was proud that “American Pie” helped bring renewed attention to Holly’s music.

He noted, “When I heard later on that [Buddy’s widow] Maria Elena Holly said that [he] got more publicity in the six months after ‘American Pie’ came out than he ever got in his whole career…I think that made me the happiest of all the things that that song did.” 

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