It is one of the most famous songs recorded, depicting one of the most famous tragedies in the history of music.
Musician Don McLean became a legend for his song “American Pie”, which made extensive reference to a plane crash in 1959 that killed three of rock and roll’s brightest and most popular young stars, and had the famous lyrics “The Day the Music Died.”
When many look back on this accident, they simply see it as “the accident that killed Buddy Holly,” given his growing fame at the time and his undying impact.
But the accident also tragically cut short the lives of JP Richardson and one of the greatest pioneering Hispanic musical artists of all time, Ritchie Valens.
At just 17 – and eight months into his recording career at the time of his death – Valens was a pioneer of Chicano rock, a genre featuring singers of Mexican descent who combined rock and roll with sounds and rhythms of Mexico.
Valens was born in California, but both parents were from Mexico.
Valens’ most notable success was “La Bamba”, an adaptation of a Mexican folk song.
After quickly gaining national fame with touring and television appearances, Valens was hired to tour the Midwest in the dead of winter to promote an album. Holly and Richardson were among others on the tour.
Fed up with bus travel in the freezing cold of the Midwest that made performers sick and in some cases plagued with frostbite from a lack of heat on the bus, Holly decided to charter a plane to Fargo. , North Dakota, after a performance in Clear Lac, Iowa.
Fargo was less than two miles from the next scheduled stop in Moorhead, Minnesota, a five and a half hour drive from Clear Lake.
There were only a few seats on the plane, so Holly had originally booked the plane for himself and the Waylon group members Jennings and Tommy Allsup. The other member of Holly’s group, drummer Carl Bunch, was hospitalized with frostbite after a bus stalled in cold weather.
However, Jennings let Richardson sit down because Richardson was sick with the flu.
Valens wanted to fly too, so he and Allsup had a toss to decide who would get on the plane.
Valens won the draw, which cost him his life.
To hear Allsup explain the story on YouTube, click or tap here.
In 2001, more than four decades after the crash, Valens was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The world will obviously never know how Valens would have made a further impact on the music industry, not just for Hispanics, but in general.
While he was one of those who perished on the day music died, what Valens accomplished in music in such a short time will live on forever.