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  The Big Bopper
Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr., commonly known as The Big Bopper, was an American musician, songwriter, and disc jockey, whose big rockabilly look, style, voice, and exuberant personality made him an early rock and roll star
Known as "The Big Bopper," J.P. Richardson had a rock hit with 1958's "Chantilly Lace." He died soon after, in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.


Born in Texas in 1930, J.P. Richardson started working in radio while in college. He dropped out of school to become a disc jockey, writing songs in his spare time. He recorded a few of his tunes before hitting it big with 1958's "Chantilly Lace." Sadly, the following year, Richardson died in a plane crash with singers Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. The tragedy was later referred to as "The day the music died."

Early Life and Career

Jiles Perry Richardson Jr., better known as J.P. Richardson, was born on October 24, 1930, in Sabine Pass, Texas. The son of an oil field worker, Richardson moved to Beaumont, Texas, as a child. He graduated from the local high school in 1947 and headed to Lamar State College of Technology, where he started working as a DJ for a radio station. Richardson left college to spin records full time. At the station, he later developed the persona of "The Big Bopper." Supposedly a shy guy, Richardson had an exuberant personality once he got in front of the microphone. During his time at the station, Richardson even set a record for the longest time on air, broadcasting for 122 hours and 8 minutes.

Outside of work, Richardson was a singer-songwriter. He recorded a few songs that went nowhere before the single "Chantilly Lace." Now considered a rockabilly classic, the song became a hit for Richardson in 1958 and stayed on the charts for 25 weeks. Music fans found "Chantilly Lace," performed in a half-spoken half-sung style, fun, and theatrical.

That December, Richardson took a break from his radio job to join the Winter Dance Party tour. The group Dion and the Belmonts, along with singers Buddy Holly (who had just left the Crickets) and Ritchie Valens were also part of the tour.

On stage, Richardson liked to dress in bold suits and use props. He often had a telephone receiver in his hand for "Chantilly Lace."

'The Day the Music Died'

On February 2, 1959, Richardson performed for the last time. He had been feeling unwell, but he reportedly had "a grand time" on stage that night at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The tour was set to perform the next day in Moorhead, Minnesota. Holly had chartered a plane to get there after experiencing trouble with his tour bus. According to some reports, Richardson was initially supposed to be on one of the tour buses that night. But Holly's guitarist, Waylon Jennings, switched places with him because Richardson was sick.

The plane took off during a light snowstorm, but it only traveled about 5 miles before crashing into a cornfield. All four passengers—Richardson, Holly, Valens and the pilot—were killed. As the news of the accident spread, many were shocked by the loss of these three talents. The tragedy was later memorialized in the Don McLean song, "American Pie," as "The day that the music died."

At the time of his death, Richardson left behind a pregnant wife and daughter. His son, Jay Perry, was born months later. Later in 1959, Richardson achieved some posthumous successes. Two songs he wrote became big hits. His friend Johnny Preston landed on the top of the country charts with "Running Bear" as did George Jones with "White Lightning."

In the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, a small aircraft carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed a few miles from Mason City Municipal Airport, near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Pilot Roger Peterson also died in the crash.

The voice of the hit songs “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day” was silenced forever.

A few months later, the Civil Aeronautics Board blamed the accident primarily on the pilot’s lack of qualification and certification for flying solely by instruments and secondarily on an inadequate weather briefing.

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board, the successor to the aeronautics board, may be taking another look.

The NTSB received a letter from aviation enthusiast L.J. Coon, a self-described retired pilot and aircraft dispatcher, asking it to consider other possible contributing factors to the crash. They include the aircraft’s weight and balance calculations (for passengers, baggage, and fuel), potential issues with rudder panels and possible carburetor Induction icing, Coon told CNN in an email.

The NTSB never fully closes a case, but any petition to re-examine a crash needs to show that there is new information suggesting the original probable cause is incorrect, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

In 1959, Holly, Valens, and Richardson were part of the Winter Dance Party, a tour that had started in Milwaukee and traveled to small cities in Minnesota and Iowa.

The musicians had traveled in subfreezing temperatures in unheated buses, and people were getting sick. Holly booked the four-seat aircraft to fly to Fargo, North Dakota, where he planned to do finally laundry and rest in advance of the group’s next concert in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota.

Country legend Waylon Jennings, then Holly’s bass player, gave up his seat to a sick Richardson. Jennings, who died in 2002 at age 64, was haunted by his decision for years to come.

Dion and the Belmonts were also on the tour, but Dion gave up his seat on the plane after hearing the $36 per-person price tag. He was the only headliner not on the plane and the only headliner who didn’t die that night.

The crash has inspired generations of artists. Lou Diamond Phillips played Ritchie Valens (originally Valenzuela) in the 1987 hit movie “La Bamba.” Gary Busey played Holly in the 1978 movie “The Buddy Holly Story.”

Don McLean, who was inspired by Holly’s music, memorialized that day as “The Day the Music Died” in his 1971 song “American Pie.”