Thomas Donaldson was born in Vicker, Virginia in 1936. In early 1959 he found himself working as a disc jockey at KFXM in San Bernardino, California. Within days after he started his job there at age 22, an airplane crashed in a cornfield in northern Iowa taking the lives of recording artists Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. the Big Bopper, along with pilot Roger Peterson. The date was February 3, 1959.
That very same day Donaldson had the idea to make a tribute song to commemorate the tragedy. He wrote the song immediately, and took it to Crest Records in Los Angeles. On February 5, Eddie Cochran became the first person to record Three Stars. Cochran had had a huge top ten hit the previous Fall with Summertime Blues. Cochran had been close friends with Ritchie Valens and was distraught at the time he made the recording. It was not issued immediately and did not chart, although Cochran's version of the song was released later, in the early 70's. There was another version of the song recorded by Kitty Wells' daughter Ruby Wright.
Another recording was made with the words spoken by Donaldson, and the supporting vocals performed by Carol Kay and the Teen-Aires. It was released as Three Stars, by Tommy Dee. The record entered the top forty on April 13, 1959 and was quite a hit. It remained on the charts for eight weeks, peaking on May 4 at number 11.
It was to be Tommy Donaldson's only hit as a recording artist. He went on to a career as a record producer, promoter and record company executive in Nashville. Carol Kay continued making records and made an appearance as a singer in the 1964 movie The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (voters in one poll claimed that this movie had "the funniest title of all time"). Eddie Cochran would suffer his own tragic death in an automobile accident in Chippenham, Wiltshire, England on April 17, 1960.
Today Three Stars is still the definitive tribute to the 1959 tragedy, which Don McLean would later call The Day The Music Died.
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