January 31, 1959: Buddy Holly, et. al., play at the Duluth Armory

On this Day in Duluth in 1959, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Richie Valens, Jiles Perry “the Big Bopper” Richardson, Dion and the Bellmonts, and others played to a sell-out crowd at the 1915 Duluth Armory for a “Winter Dance Party” promoted by Duluth’s Lew Latto. Three days later, Holly, Valens, and Richardson perished in a plane crash. In the audience, as the famous story goes, was a young Robert Zimmerman, who became so inspired he picked up a guitar and changed his name to Bob Dylan. Also in that audience that night was Zenith City’s own Jim Heffernan, who wrote about that night in 1987 for the Duluth News Tribune. Here are a few excerpts from that piece: “The program was one of a succession of ‘Armory dances’ held in those days and they drew big crowds of teenagers. The audience did not sit down…the floor was left clear for dancing. Holly and Valens, along with the Big Bopper, were all hit artists at the time. Duluth often gets entertainers on the way up, on the way down or on the way to nowhere. These guys were somewhere right then. They were on the charts, and they were here in person. Holly was the headliner, but Valens had made such a hit with his tune ‘La Bamba’ he wasn’t very far behind. If you were young and in Duluth that night, there was absolutely nowhere else to be. I was a 19-year-old UMD student, and half the campus was at the dance. I remember standing maybe 75 feet from the stage during the performances. The girls went absolutely gaga over Holly—screaming, jumping, clapping. When he sang ‘Peggy Sue,’ the place went wild. I couldn’t figure out what the girls saw in him. Dressed in a sport-coat and tie, he wore horn-rim glasses and had a mop of dark hair, but he was as plain as the Texas countryside from which he had sprung. I couldn’t understand all the fuss. Valens was a classic Latin type. Once again, the crowd went wild.”

The city of Duluth had this postcard produced to promote its new state-of-the-art Armory in 1916. (Image: Zenith City)