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Buddy Holly Mural in Lubbock, Texas // Getty Images
Buddy Holly Mural in Lubbock, Texas // Getty Images

The Strange Case of Buddy Holly's Final Pair of Glasses

Buddy Holly Mural in Lubbock, Texas // Getty Images
Buddy Holly Mural in Lubbock, Texas // Getty Images

Sheriff Jerry Allen of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, was combing through a storage vault in a courthouse basement on February 29, 1980 when he came across an envelope. It was from the coroner's office and read, "Charles Hardin Holley, rec'd April 7, 1959." Allen opened it and found a pair of black-framed angular eyeglasses, the lenses scratched.

The sheriff instantly connected them to the most famous incident to have ever happened in that rural patch: "The Day the Music Died." On February 3, 1959, a charter flight carrying musicians Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens to a tour stop crashed into a cornfield outside Mason City, Iowa, due to a combination of inclement weather and pilot error. The crash killed all three early rock stars and the pilot, Roger Peterson.

Besides Holly's glasses, the envelope discovered by Sheriff Allen also contained some dice, a cigarette lighter, and two wristwatches, one engraved with the name "J.P. Richardson"—The Big Bopper's real name. The watch still ran "quite well," Allen told a reporter for United Press International a few weeks later. "I cranked it up."

When first responders scoured the crash site in 1959, they collected personal effects, which were sent to the victims' families. Allen speculated that the leftover items were flung from the plane and found by a farmer two months later, when the snow melted. The coroner's office collected and then misplaced them in the process of moving to a new county courthouse. The envelope spent 21 years in a locked steel cabinet in a storage vault.

The glasses were Buddy Holly's trademark. The Texas-born singer had 20/800 vision and couldn't read the top line of the eye chart as a boy, though he initially went spec-less at gigs, thinking glasses would hurt his image. According to Texas Monthly, that changed after an early show where he dropped his guitar pick and had to crawl around on stage searching for it. He still ditched his glasses for his first promotional photos, but he finally found a style of black frames he liked. In a great leap for bespectacled nerds everywhere, Holly managed to make the thick-framed glasses cool.

Upon discovering the glasses, Sheriff Allen planned to turn them over to Buddy Holly's parents. However, Holly's widow, Maria Holly Diaz, who lost her husband when he was just 22, objected. The parties couldn't come to an agreement and the matter went to court. They weren't the only people who wanted the glasses. According to The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens by Larry Lehmer, Sheriff Allen ignored a Holly fanatic from Delaware who offered $502.37 for the glasses, pleading to Allen that it was his entire life savings. "I'd wish I'd have just put the damn things back and forgotten about them," complained Allen, according to Lehmer.

On March 20, 1981, a judge granted the glasses to Diaz at the same Mason City courthouse where Allen had discovered them. According to Texas Monthly, she sold them for $80,000 in 1998 to Civic Lubbock, the nonprofit behind the city's Buddy Holly Center, where they are on permanent display.

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Tonamel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Listen to the Eerie Sounds of a Glass Armonica
Tonamel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Tonamel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Invented by Benjamin Franklin in the 1760s, the glass armonica (named after the Italian word for harmony, armonia) is one of the world's more unusual musical instruments. It's formed of about 50 glass bowls attached to a rotating spindle and nested inside of each other, which are played to produce sounds similar to those you get if you rub a moistened fingertip around the edge of a wineglass. Mozart composed for it, and Beethoven too.

Today, Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts graduate student Jake Schlaerth is one of only about 30 glass armonica players in the country, and he contributed his talents to the score for the Wolverine movie Logan earlier this year. In the video below from Rutgers (spotted by The Kid Should See This), you can watch Schlaerth play the eerie-sounding instrument and explain more about what makes it so special.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Ronald Dumont / Stringer / Gett Images
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Pop Culture
Ella Fitzgerald Recording Will Be Released After More Than 60 Years in Record Label Vault
Ronald Dumont / Stringer / Gett Images
Ronald Dumont / Stringer / Gett Images

Ella Fitzgerald ascended to jazz royalty with her pitch-perfect renditions of "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," "Summertime," and tunes from the Great American Songbook. Now, Verve Records plans to release a Fitzgerald recording from the 1950s that’s never been heard by fans. As WBGO reports, Ella at Zardi’s will make its public debut on December 1 after 60 years in the record label’s vault.

Fitzgerald sang the two sets featured on the album in 1956 after signing with Verve Records, a label her manager Norman Granz formed specifically for her. She was days away from recording Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book, a turning point in her career, and she spent her nights practicing songs at Zardi’s Jazzland in Hollywood. The recording opens with Granz introducing Fitzgerald, describing her as “the greatest there is,” before she dives into her performance of “It All Depends on You.” The new release will mark the first appearance of the song on a Fitzgerald album.

After Verve recorded the sets at Zardi’s on February 2, 1956, they stowed the tapes away in the vault, where they lay buried for decades. The decision to finally share the music with the public comes on the year of the singer’s centennial celebration, marking what would have been her 100th birthday.

The full 21-track album will be available digitally and as an audio CD when it comes out at the beginning of next month. Listeners can preorder it today on Amazon.

[h/t WBGO]

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