History of The Day The Music Died

Bill Petro
3 min readFeb 3, 2022

On February 3, 1959, a plane crash occurred in Iowa during a snowstorm shortly after 1:00 AM, killing three young rock and roll singers who would go down in history: Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

Their story would later be captured as “long, long time ago” in the 8 1/2 minute hit song “American Pie” by Don McLean, released twelve years later in 1971.

Many attempts have been made to decrypt the lyrics of this abstract song. Though never explicitly stated — except that the song is dedicated to Buddy Holly — these musicians appear to represent:

the three men I admire most, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost… the day the music died.

When was the Day the Music Died?

February made me shiver… bad news on the doorstep” is the date of the crash. These performers were planning a 24-city “Winter City Party Tour.” The bus was so cold that Buddy Holly decided to charter a plane to the next venue in Fargo, N.D. But the plane didn’t make it.

Who were those who Died the Day the Music Died?

  • Richard Valenzuela, aka Richie Valens only 17, currently had a hit with La Bamba.
  • Buddy Holly had several hits, including That’ll Be The Day and Peggy Sue. His song Peggy Sue Got Married was later turned into a hit movie by Francis Ford Coppola, starring his nephew Nicolas Cage (Coppola).
  • The Big Bopper,” mentioned by Nicolas Cage in that same movie, was not the name of a hamburger but the singer of the hit song Chantilly Lace.

Why did he Write the Day the Music Died?

Looking back from the beginning of the ’70s, McLean writes a farewell to the idyllic music of the ’50s and ’60s with a chorus that uses a popular symbol of Americana, namely Apple Pie. With his memories as a 13-year-old on the occasion of the plane crash, which he learned while folding newspapers for delivery, he recounted in 2015 when he sold the lyrics for $1.2M, that the music that progressed from that time “when… I can still remember how that music used to make me smile” to the early ’70s was as follows:

“Basically in ‘American Pie’…

Bill Petro

Writer, technologist, historian. Former Silicon Valley tech exec. Author of fascinating articles on history, tech, pop culture, & travel. https://billpetro.com