Despite a promising career that ended too soon, the Big Bopper was a pioneer of rockabilly music.
Born on October 24, 1930 as Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr., the Big Bopper has had a lasting influence on music. His career began as a radio DJ in Beaumont, Texas. He started calling himself the Big Bopper after seeing college students doing a dance called The Bop. His radio show was very popular and he was soon promoted to the station’s program director.
The Big Bopper also played guitar and his career in music started as a songwriter. He wrote “White Lightening” for George Jones and “Running Bear” for Johnny Preston, although both of songs were released after his death in 1959. A man named Harold Daily of Houston signed Richardson to Mercury Records. Prior to his famous song “Chantilly Lace” he had another single with a country influence called “Beggar to a King” but it wasn’t successful. “Chantilly Lace” was released in the summer of 1958 and spent 22 weeks in the national Top 40.
Due to the success of the song, the Big Bopper joined music stars Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and Dion and the Belmonts for the Winter Dance Party tour. At 12:30 a.m. on February 3, 1959 he boarded a plane with Holly and Valens and flew into a snowstorm on the way to Moorhead, Minnesota. He originally didn’t have a seat on the plane but Waylon Jennings, the guitarist for Buddy Holly, gave up his seat because the Big Bopper was suffering from the flu. The plane went down shortly after takeoff.
The Big Bopper has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame as a pioneer of the musical genre. He combined country, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll and was known for his humor and distinctive style. He is also credited as creating the first music video, and had filmed three examples himself. At the time of his death he had written lyrics for 20 new songs.