A half century has passed since “the day the music died.” Tuesday will mark the 50th anniversary of the small plane crash that killed rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.

It’s a day that those in the Golden Triangle who receive Social Security, or who close to it, will remember. Many of them had heard The Big Bopper, or J.P. Richardson, on local radio or at local shows. He was from Beaumont and is buried there.

Richardson was only 28 when he died in the snowstorm in an Iowa cornfield. He had recorded one big pop hit, “Chantilly Lace,” and written “White Lightnin’” for George Jones, a young country singer from the Triangle. Another of Richardson’s compositions, “Running Bear,” was a hit for local singer Johnny Preston, and later Bobby Bare. Richardson sang back-up on Preston’s original “Running Bear,” and the record was released after his death, according to the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Richardson wasn’t supposed to be on the plane. The musicians had been touring on a bus, but Holly had wanted to rent a plane to get to the next destination sooner. Holly’s guitarist Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on the plane, but gave up his seat to Richardson.

The deaths of the three young musicians helped inspire the 1971 classic pop hit “American Pie” by Don McLean, who refers to the crash as “the day the music died.”

Holly’s story was portrayed in a 1978 movie, “The Buddy Holly Story,” which earned an Academy Award nomination for actor Gary Busey as Holly, but earned the scorn of musicians because of inaccuracies.

A movie about Valens, “La Bamba,” was made in 1987 with Lou Diamond Phillips as the star.

No feature film, though, has been made about The Big Bopper. Roy Dunn, publisher of The Record Newspapers, said producers had been interested in making a film from an in-depth article once printed in a newspaper he owned in this area. However, the movie was never made.

Richardson was born in Sabine Pass and moved to Beaumont when he was a child. He was graduated from Beaumont High School and attended Lamar. He got a job as a disc jockey at KTRM radio station in Beaumont and worked there before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1955.

After serving in the Army for two years, he returned to Beaumont and again worked at KTRM. Wikipedia reports that one day, Richardson noticed college kids doing a dance called “The Bop,” and he turned his name into “The Big Bopper.”

Jones reached No. 1 on the country charts with Richardson’s “White Lightnin’” and Richardson’s own recording of “Chantilly Lace,” a rock and roll standard with his deep voice, spent 22 weeks in the Pop Charts Top 40.

A year ago, Richardson again attracted international news headlines. His son, Jay P. Richardson, who was born after his father’s death, had Richardson’s body exhumed and examined by a forensic scientist. The son, for years, had heard rumors of his father surviving the plane crash and trying to crawl for help, or perhaps that a gun had been fired in the plane.

The exhumation and examination proved The Big Bopper died of multiple injuries from the plane crash and could not have lived, Wikipedia reported.

The Big Bopper was placed in a new casket and buried next to his wife, who had since died, in Beaumont’s Magnolia Cemetery.
But though he’s buried once more, The Big Bopper’s music still lives.