On this day in 1959 rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson are killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa a few minutes after takeoff on a flight from Mason City to Moorehead, Minnesota. Holly had chartered the plane for his band to fly between tour dates during the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had a cold, talked Holly's band member Waylon Jennings out of his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane.
Holly had just scored a No. 1 hit, "That'll Be the Day," with his band, the Crickets. Holly, just 22, had started singing country music with high school friends but switched to rock and roll after opening for various rock singers, including Elvis Presley. By the mid-1950s, Holly and his band had a regular radio show and had toured internationally, playing hits like "Peggy Sue," "Oh, Boy!," "Maybe Baby," and "Early in the Morning." Holly wrote all his own songs, and much of his work was released after his death, influencing such artists as Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney. Another crash victim, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, 28, had started out as a disk jockey but began writing songs during his two years in the army. He wrote songs for other artists, including "Running Bear," a chart-climbing song recorded by singer Johnny Preston.
The most famous work performed by Richardson himself was the rockabilly "Chantilly Lace," which made the Top 10. He developed a stage show based on his radio persona, "The Big Bopper." The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela, who was only 17 when the plane went down but had already scored a No. 2 hit with the ballad "Donna." He had also hit No. 22 with "La Bamba," an upbeat number based on a traditional Mexican wedding song. In 1987, Valens' life was portrayed in the movie La Bamba, and the title song, performed by Los Lobos, became a No. 1 hit. Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens, and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit "American Pie," which was rerecorded by Madonna in 2000.