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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thankyou for your great insight into this phenominal pioneer of rock and roll, i live in sydney australia and i too share a great love and admiration for Buddy and have done so for some thirty years now. i am now in my mid 30's and would have to say that Buddy's musical legacy has had a great influence in my life, so thanks again, Geoff.
Buddy was a legend and inspired so many artists
Long live his music
I just developed an enthusiasm for "the apartment tapes" so today I walked down to look at the Brevoort. There was a plaque on the side of the building about Mark Twain and Washington Irving, whose tenure was obviously before the current structure, but I saw nothing about Holly. I wanted to check if it was really his last address, so Googled and read this article before realising, at the end, that of course I know you. Hi, it's Charles.
According to the biography "Remembering Buddy" (which is supposed to be the most accurate one), Holly lived in apartment 4H. The building should have something on it to commemorate Buddy having lived and recorded there. After all, this is the King of Rock-n-Roll we're talking about!
I read "Remembering Buddy" and then I took a walk to Brevoort. It is a strange feeling to see that house where the King of Rock-n-Roll walked and worked.
Hi - I am a big Buddy Holly fan living in Scotland and visited the Brevoort last week whilst on holiday in NY.
It's definitely Apartment 4H and the guys on reception will take you outside and show you - they know the history even without a plaque. Its on the corner, facing Washington Pk Square, 3rd balcony up and the only one near with aircon. Sold recently for $915,000 and only one bedroom, mean old gentrification.
Meant a lot to visit. Not Fade Away.
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