The Day the Music Died: Remembering Buddy Holly (1936-1959)

by John W. Whitehead / February 3rd, 2019

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.

— Don McLean, American Pie (1971)

The snow was heavy on that night 60 years ago.

The only alternative to riding all night long in a dirty, unheated bus to the next concert gig was a tiny airplane.

Shortly after takeoff, however, the plane carrying Buddy Holly, along with Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, disappeared into a snowy cloud.

Holly’s torn, mangled body was found a few hours later in a frozen Iowa cornfield a little past midnight on February 3, 1959.

I was a 12-year-old kid at the time.

For Buddy Holly fans like me, it seemed that all was lost, a feeling immortalized in Don McLean’s classic song.

As an artist, Buddy Holly was only with us for 30 months, between 1957 and 1959, but in that short period, Holly’s innovation and keen musicianship made him the Mozart of rock music and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

Virtually everything we hear on recordings and see on video and the concert stage can be traced to two icons: Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.

Elvis, the quintessential star, soon forsook rock for slow ballads and mediocre musical films.

Holly, by contrast, was an adept musician and an artist who was devoted to his craft. He was a true pioneer, a revolutionary, a multi-dimensional talent. As Philip Norman writes in his insightful book Rave On: The…

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