Today We Remember: J.P. Richardson – aka The Big Bopper

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.

Hellooo, Baby! And Welcome to another edition of “Today We Remember”. Today we’re remembering one of the most hip and happenin’ fellas of the Fifties: The Big Bopper!

“The Big Bopper” was really Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr. (“J.P.”) born on October 24, 1930 in the Southeast town of Sabine Pass, TX. He was the first of three boys born to Jiles Perry Richardson, Sr. and Elise (Stalsby) Richardson.

The Richardsons moved 20 miles north to Beaumont, where J.P. attended Beaumont High and graduated with the Class of 1947.

In 1949, a young J.P. quit college to work at Beaumont radio station KTRM. Three years later, he married Adrianne Joy Fryou and they had a daughter, Debra Joy, in December of 1953.

In 1955, J.P. was drafted into the US Army where he served for two years as a radar instructor at Fort Bliss. He ranked corporal before his discharge. (Can you believe that The Big Bopper was also Corporal Richardson? Pretty impressive, right?!)

In 1957, J.P. returned to KTRM radio. It was then that the station decided that they would give J.P.  his very own show. After seeing teenagers do a new dance called “The Bop”, J.P. decided to call himself “The Big Bopper” as an on-air name. His show time slot was 3-6 pm and he was soon promoted to the station’s director.

J.P. began his musical career as a song writer. He wrote the song “Running Bear” which was recorded by singer Johnny Preston and reached #1 on the charts in early 1960. J.P. can be heard on the recording doing the sound-effects in the background. The song was first released in August 1959, six months after J.P.’s untimely death.

But of course, The Big Bopper’s biggest hit was undoubtedly “Chantilly Lace” which climbed the charts as a favorite in the summer of 1958, reaching a peak position of number 6.

Other credits to J.P.’s musical legacy include The Big Bopper’s 5-day marathon, in which he broke the record for continuous on-air broadcasting. He is also credited with making the very first music video featuring himself in “The Big Bopper’s Wedding”.

In 1958, The Big Bopper performed “Chantilly Lace” on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. In the performance he alternates between his guitar and a telephone on which he pretends to talk to a girlfriend. The clip has become a classic piece of early pop footage and its online uploads continue to be frequently viewed on YouTube.

In January of 1959, J.P. Richardson set out on the ill-fated Winter Dance Party ’59 tour as one of the headliners. “Chantilly Lace” had made him a star and teens everywhere wanted to see him perform it live. So he said goodbye to his wife and daughter for what was only supposed to be 3 weeks.

By the second week of the tour, the bus kept breaking down in sub-zero temperatures. To make matters worse, J.P. came down with the cold that was going around. On the second of February, Buddy Holly hired a plane from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, IA. to fly himself and his bandmates to the next tour stop in Moorhead, MN.

Originally, Waylon Jennings was going to be on that flight, but Jennings gave up his seat to J.P. so he could quickly get to a hotel to rest. Jennings’s act of kindness ended in a cruel twist of Fate.

On February 3, 1959 just shortly after 1 AM, the chartered, single-engine plane flown by a young man named Roger Peterson crashed, killing all 4 people on board. J.P. Richardson, along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were all killed instantly.

J.P. Richardson was only 28 years old when he died. Two months after his death in April of 1959, his wife Adrianne gave birth to their son, Jay Perry Richardson (1959 – 2013). Although Jay Richardson never knew his father, he carried on his legacy. He donated some of his father’s song books to the memorial museum at the Surf Ballroom in Clearlake, IA., the site of J.P.’s last show.

The Big Bopper’s unique and creative entertainment style have been a staple of music history for nearly six decades. The catchy, upbeat “Chantilly Lace” is a retro juke box favorite and is often included in compilation albums from that era.

Although his life was cut tragically short, his memory withstands the test of time. To this day, J.P. Richardson is still making people everywhere smile wherever oldies are played. He will always be a beloved icon from America’s Greatest Era.

 J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. (1930 – 1959)

Voting is now open in the ninth annual Great 88 survey.  Pick your 10 favorite songs from 1957 and 1960  here daily.  A full first round schedule and additional information can be found here.  You can also find the results of earlier surveys in the Great 88 section.

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