Today marks 58 years since the plane crash that killed musicians J.P “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly, as well as their pilot, Roger Peterson. Their deaths came as a massive shock, and the tragedy was later nicknamed “The Day the Music Died.” However, the crash didn’t just take the lives of three talented musicians. It took the lives of a father, a son, and a star who would pave the way for others who wore glasses.
Buddy Holly was reported to have 20/800 eyesight before correction, but hated wearing his glasses in his early days of performing. He believed that they took away from his image as a rock and roll star and wearing glasses would impact him in a negative way. The contacts he was originally fitted with could only be worn for an hour at a time, and caused major discomfort, and didn’t even correct his vision much. He considered wearing glasses after he realized he couldn’t see his audience, but eventually he started wearing them after he dropped his guitar pick at a show, realized he couldn’t even see the floor it was on, and had to crawl around on stage looking for it…and still couldn’t find it.
After the incident, his optometrist ordered thick black frames with horned accents from a supplier in Mexico City, and had him try them on. After he realized he could see the people around him, he took the glasses and never performed without them again. He became one of the first celebrities to be seen in public while wearing glasses, and the first rock musician to wear them while performing.
Even though he died so long ago, Buddy Holly’s legacy continues even to this day, beyond his musical influence. Instead of being criticized for wearing them, his glasses became known as his signature look and one of the most recognizable items in rock and roll history. People saw him as an incredibly talented musician who wrote and arranged all of his own music instead of as a person who had low vision. Performers such as John Lennon and Elton John wore their glasses on stage because of him, and many others followed. Glasses became more of a fashion statement instead of something to be made fun of, and one of the most popular styles of eyewear today is modeled after his trademark thick-rimmed glasses.
I’ll end this post with a picture of me from earlier today at the National Portrait Gallery, wearing Buddy Holly glasses of my own, and smiling next to the musician who helped make glasses not only cool to wear, but part of mainstream media. May his legacy never fade.