UNDATED (CBS) -- It's been 50 years since a single-engine plane crashed into a snow-covered Iowa field, instantly killing three men whose names would become enshrined in the history of rock 'n' roll.
On February 3rd 1959, the accident which took place shortly after midnight
near Clear Lake, Iowa, claimed the lives of rock-and-roll stars Buddy Holly,
Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as pilot Roger
The passing decades haven't diminished fascination with that night when
22-year-old Buddy Holly performed in Clear Lake, as did the other music stars, and then boarded the plane for a planned 300-mile flight that lasted only minutes.
Starting Wednesday, thousands of people are expected to gather in the small
northern Iowa town where the rock pioneers gave their last performance.
They'll come to the Surf Ballroom for symposiums with the three musicians'
relatives, sold-out concerts and a ceremony as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame designates the building as its ninth national landmark.
And they'll discuss why after so many years, so many people still care about what songwriter Don McLean so famously called "the day the music died."
At the time the sound of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Holly was making way for the British Invasion of the mid-1960s.
Holly's career was short, but his hiccup-vocal style, guitar play and songwriting talents had tremendous influence on later performers.
The Beatles, who formed about the time of the crash, were among his early fans and fashioned their name after Holly's band, The Crickets.
Holly's hit songs include 'That'll Be The Day,' 'Peggy Sue' and 'Maybe Baby.'
Richardson, "The Big Bopper," is often credited with creating the first music
video with his recorded performance of 'Chantilly Lace' in 1958, decades
And Valens was one of the first musicians to apply a Mexican influence to rock 'n' roll.
He recorded his huge hit 'La Bamba' only months before the accident.
The plane left the airport in nearby Mason City about 1 am, headed for
Moorhead, Minnesota with the musicians looking for a break from a tiring, cold bus trip through the Upper Midwest.
It wasn't until hours later that the demolished plane was found, crumpled
against a wire fence.
Investigators believe the pilot, who also died, became confused amid the dark, snowy conditions and rammed the plane into the ground.
The crash set off a wave of mourning among their passionate, mostly young fans across the country.
Then 12 years later the crash was immortalized as "the day the music died" in McLean's 1971 song, 'American Pie.'
Read the official NTSB report on the plane crash HERE.
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