I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
—Don McLean, American Pie
Today, February 3, 2009, marks the 50th anniversary of the “day the music died”—the plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, that claimed the lives of Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly.
Originally from Lubbock, Texas, Holly was one of the earliest stars to take what was then still being called “race music” and cross over to white audiences. His early hits with the Crickets—including That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy!, and Not Fade Away—had a profound influence on later acts (including the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who were huge fans) and are still some of the greatest rock songs ever written.
Before his untimely death at age 22, Holly had split with the Crickets and moved to New York City to be closer to the New York music scene. He and his new bride, Maria Elena, moved into the Brevoort apartments at 11 Fifth Avenue. What was then a brand-new apartment building had recently replaced the famous Brevoort Hotel, which had at one time been among the city’s finest hostelries. (Among other famous events, the Brevoort Hotel was the place where Charles Lindbergh received the $25,000 Orteig Prize for his solo flight across the Atlantic; Orteig was the hotel’s owner.)
From print and online sources, it seems unclear if Buddy Holly lived in Apartment 4H or Apartment 3B. (Holly fans--feel free to chime in below in the comments section.) Whichever apartment it was, he set up a home tape recorder and in December 1958 made his final recordings, among them Crying, Waiting, Hoping and Peggy Sue Got Married. Posthumously released with overdubs and studio trickery, the original tapes have circulated for decades among collectors. They were recently included on the definitive Holly rarities set, Down the Line.
When Holly moved in to the Brevoort in 1958, he paid $1,000 a month rent for a corner unit with a wraparound terrace. A two-bedroom apartment in the building (which has been a co-op since 1981) now goes for about $1.495 million.
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If you are interested in doing a Rock and Roll tour of the city that includes the Brevoort—and many more famous rock and roll sites—we wrote the script for a tour of famous music spots in the East and West Village. The tour, narrated by DJ Ken Dashow, is available for download at www.citylisten.com.
You can also read about New York in the 1960s in Inside the Apple, available for pre-order today.
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