J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson

bopper1October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959

“Hellooo Baby!”

Celebrity and tragedy often go hand in hand. Sometimes, the former leads to the latter. And sometimes, the latter solidifies the former.

Jiles Perry “J.P.” Richardson was a radio personality in East Texas whose biggest claim-to-fame by the time he was 26 was successfully pulling off a 5-day on-air marathon broadcast that found him spinning some 1,821 consecutive records. Known to his audience as “The Big Bopper,” Richardson also dabbled in songwriting. His songs caught the ear of Mercury records and, in 1958, Bopper’s novelty song “Chantilly Lace” started steadily climbing the charts.

The success of the hit single led to the opportunity to join Buddy Holly on his upcoming “Winter Dance Party” tour. The tour featured Holly, Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Dion and the Belmonts. It began in Milwaukee, WI on January 23, 1959 and zig-zagged its way across the upper midwest. The ill-fated tour was plagued with bad weather, transportation troubles and logistics issues. The promoters scheduled dates and venues that followed no logical path, so the musicians often found themselves on a freezing bus backtracking hundreds of miles overnight to play the next gig. It was, for all intents and purposes, miserable.

By February 2nd, Holly was fed up with the condition of the tour and chartered a plane for himself and two of his bandmates (including a young Waylon Jennings) so they could expedite the trip to the next stop and get some rest. Jennings offered his seat on the plane to Bopper, who had been suffering from the flu. Valens won the 3rd seat on a coin flip. It was well after midnight on February 3rd, 1959. It was 18° F and snowing. The young pilot was not certified to fly in no-visibility situations. The plane crashed just minutes after takeoff. There were no survivors.

Dubbed in pop culture and subsequent history as “The Day the Music Died,” the crash is one of the most famous entertainment tragedies of all time. For Bopper’s part, it catapulted him into the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend. Though the 28 year-old only released 2 songs in life, his name and legacy still loom large today. Many of his compositions went on to be recorded by others. Country legend George Jones recorded Bopper’s song, “White Lightning,” a few months after the crash. It would become Jones’ first #1 hit.

Burial

Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Beaumont, TX

Specific Location

Tranquility; Enter the cemetery from Pine St. and take the first right. Continue going straight, staying to the left of a couple of rounded sections. When you reach a “T” intersection, turn left then stop when the road bends to the right. Look for the Texas Historical Marker in the Tranquility section in front of you. Bopper is buried just in front of this marker.

bopper_simpsons

Not quite the same in real life as The Simpsons depicted it.

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