Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

The Scene: The day the music died — celebrating 60 years of rock and roll

I had not been born yet on the day the music died. In fact, I doubt I ever would have known of music’s untimely death if I had not been so enamored by singer-songwriter Don McLean’s eight-and-a-half-minute song, “American Pie,” when I was little. Though the lyrics are complex, poetic and anything but straightforward, I eventually learned the story of one of the events that inspired McLean to write the song. A little over 60 years ago, on Feb. 3, 1959, three young and promising musicians left their freezing and uncomfortable tour buses for a small aircraft, which was meant to take them from Clear Lake, Iowa to Fargo, N.D. on their Winter Dance Party tour. Never making it out of Iowa, the plane crashed minutes after takeoff, killing the pilot, Roger Peterson, and all three passengers: J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly.

These three names may not ring a bell among many today, but back in the mid to late 1950s, the rock and roll singers were on their way to stardom. Richardson had just begun to make strong headway with songs such as “Chantilly Lace” and “Big Bopper’s Wedding.”  His song “White Lightenin’” later became a hit for country singer George Jones. Valens, dubbed “the first Hispanic rock star” in his biography on, helped set Chicano rock into motion, inspiring the bands Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys decades later. His potential had arisen with his no. two hit, “Donna,” and his ever-popular adaptation of the Mexican folk song “La Bamba.”  He was only 17 years old when he was killed. However, the most well-known singer of the three was Buddy Holly, originally part of a group called The Crickets, who had scored numerous hits in Holly’s 18-month musical career. These songs, including “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Not Fade Away” and “It’s So Easy” heavily influenced later music, especially that of The Beatles. Holly’s music, a mixture of R&B, country and early rock, really did earn him the statement made about him by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on their website: “Rock & Roll as we know it would not exist without Buddy Holly.”

The impact these three budding musical artists had — and continue to have — on music resonates through the years like the sound waves of a strumming guitar. Their music has not really died so much as it has been reborn, shaped and reshaped by many hands and voices to create new sounds and songs. Instead, it is the memory of their original voices that is dying. Don’t get me wrong; there are still millions of people who remember Richardson, Valens and Holly and listen to their music, but there are also millions of people who have never even heard of them. As February arrives, take some time to listen to these early voices of rock and roll, and don’t forget that all music has deeper roots. If we ever forget, if we ever stop listening, then that’ll truly be the day the music dies.          

Holly Engel, an A&E Editor for the Voice, can be reached for comment at

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