Bespectacled Buddy. (Image Source)
Before his shocking death at only 22 in 1959, Buddy Holly managed to make major moves. A native of Lubbock, Texas, Holly began playing the guitar as a kid, and counted a number of Country Music singers as influences. As a teen he began listening to Rhythm & Blues over the radio late at night, and it wasn’t long before he combined Country and R&B and began playing the hot new sound of the 1950s: Rock & Roll.
Amazingly, Holly’s professional career really only took off when he signed with Decca Records in 1956, meaning he hit the top of the charts, toured the country (and even internationally), and packed theatres in 3 short years (along with his band The Crickets for part of that time).This post is going to focus on one particular set of performances in 1957, when Holly took Harlem. From The Delete Bin:
Rock ‘n’ roll is not a type of music. It was a social phenomenon that threaded together music of many American cultures by the 1950s, and continues to be that today on a global scale. To prove the point of the range of rock ‘n’ roll music of their era, Lubbock Texas band Buddy Holly and The Crickets performed at the Apollo Theatre in August of 1957. Expectations were certainly undercut in the days before the civil rights movement, when audiences and musicians of various races simply did not mix. But, thanks to their historic show at The Apollo, this rule was gloriously broken.
Buddy Holly and his bandmates were the first white rock ‘n’ roll group to play the venue, rightly known as a center of African American culture and artistry. Their appearance helped to demonstrate how that artistic reach went far beyond the confines of that particular culture, and that rock ‘n’ roll was indeed here to stay, in part because of its defiance about how those of different races and cultures were once expected to connect (or not) to each other. Since then and among many other rock acts, John Lennon, Blondie, The Arctic Monkeys, and Metallica have played the Apollo, very aware of how rock music owes a debt to the venerable venue and the musical traditions it represents, welcoming acts of all cultural backgrounds even if it remains to be an African American institution.
This performance was part of the 1978 film “The Buddy Holly Story” which earned actor Gary Busey, in the title role, an Oscar nom.
Also take a listen to “Peggy Sue”, which charted on both the Billboard Pop and R&B Charts in 1957:
Weezer’s 1994 hit, “Buddy Holly”:
And this vintage NPR story, “The Story of Buddy Holly” from 1989, the 30th anniversary of his death.