Born: Oct. 24, 1930 in Sabine Pass, Texas
Died: Feb. 3, 1959
J.P. Richardson was born in the small coastal town of Sabine Pass, Texas. He worked as a disc jockey before entering the military. Upon his discharge in 1955, he set his sights on becoming the preeminent disc jockey in southeast Texas. He worked at KTRM in Beaumont, TX, and at one time, set a world record for continuous broadcasting, lasting for over 122 hours.
During that time, Richardson developed "The Big Bopper" as a radio character and wrote and recorded several songs under the Mercury label, including the number one hit "Chantilly Lace" (gold record, 1958). He also made a pioneering video for the hit song and later coined the term "music video" for the production. Other recordings such as "Little Red Riding Hood" and the "Big Bopper's Wedding" also made it to the charts. Richardson also wrote hit songs for other southeast Texas musicians, including "White Lightning" for George Jones and "Running Bear" for Johnny Preston, helping to launch their careers. Richardson and George Jones performed the background vocals for "Running Bear."
In early 1959 Richardson joined some other notable rock and roll acts on a tour of the upper Midwest called "Winter Dance Party." One of the other performers, Buddy Holly, was tired of traveling on the group's unheated bus. On a chilly February night, after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly and Valens made arrangements for a private plane to fly them and one other passenger to the next stop on the tour. After some jockeying, Waylon Jennings gave his seat to J.P., who had the flu at the time. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff on the morning of February 3, killing all four onboard.
The accident is famously referred to as "The Day the Music Died" in Don McLean's 1971 song "American Pie." Of the three, only Richardson wrote three number-one songs. The Bopper wrote thirty-eight songs during his life and recorded twenty-one of them.
In 2004 he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. The following year the Texas Historical Commission erected a marker in his honor. The Big Bopper is enshrined in the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Music Hall of Fame.