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 with 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 originally 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."
Over the years, Richardson has become better remembered for his tragic death than for his all-too-brief career. Still "Chantilly Lace" remains a popular early rock song, which is a favorite among movie soundtracks. It can be heard in such films as American Graffiti and Happy Feet.
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