In the early hours of Feb. 3, 1959, a single-engined, 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed in a cornfield near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing everyone on board. When investigators surveyed the wreckage later that day, they found the bodies of rock and roll artist Buddy Holly and tour-mates, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson.
The news sent a shock through the still-emerging rock and roll world. As Claire Suddath pointed out in a Time article for the 50th anniversary of the crash, however, the response to Holly's death was subdued compared to the farewells that would be given to later rockstars, many of whom became household names thanks in part to Holly's music.
Twelve years later, the pioneering 22-year-old from Lubbock, Texas proved again that he'd inspired a generation of musicians when Don McLean sang about his death -- along with those of Valens and Richardson -- dubbing Feb. 3 "the day the music died" in his renowned folk rock hit, "American Pie." While the song doesn't include mention of their names, McLean has said that he was inspired both by Holly's music, as well as the way he felt his life -- and the country, as it headed into the 1960s -- change soon after reading headlines about the plane crash that claimed Holly's life.
Below, McLean's "American Pie," accompanied by an unofficial music video aired on the program "Deja View" in the 1980s:
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that Holly's band included Valens and Richardson. While they had all played on the 1959 "Winter Dance Party Tour," they did so as separate acts.