February 3, 1959 was “the day the music died”, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash. The incident, which saw three of rock’s biggest stars die at the same time, was the inspiration for Don McLean’s song, American Pie. (American Pie lyrics)

Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holly), Ritchie Valens (Richard Valenzuela), and The Big Bopper (JP Richardson) were flying with pilot Roger Peterson in a private plane from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Moorhead, Minnesota. The flight was the result of several mishaps on the Winter Dance Party tour, and Clear Lake was not even meant to be a stop on the tour. In order to make the next date, and for Buddy Holly to be able to do laundry, the three musicians chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza B35 to fly them to Moorhead.

Originally, Buddy Holly and his bandmates were meant to fly together, but The Big Bopper ended up getting Waylon Jennings’ seat and Ritchie Valens got Tommy Allsup’s spot. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, leaving no survivors. Investigations later determined the crash as caused by poor weather and pilot error. Buddy Holly was 22 years old. Ritchie Valens was 17, and The Big Bopper was 28.