Charles Hardin Holley was born in Lubbock, Texas to Lawrence Odell Holley and Ella Pauline Drake in 1936. The Holleys were a musical family and as a young boy Holley learned to play piano, guitar and violin (his brothers oiled the strings so much that no one could hear him play). In 1949 Buddy cut a demo of Hank Snow's 'My Two-Timin' Woman' on a home tape recorder, his first known recording. During the fall of that year he met Bob Montgomery in Hutchinson Junior High School. They shared a common interest in music and soon teamed up as the duo "Buddy and Bob." Initially influenced by bluegrass music, they sang harmony duets at local clubs and high school talent shows. His musical interests grew throughout high school while singing in the Lubbock High School Choir.
Holly turned to rock music after seeing Elvis Presley sing live in Lubbock in early 1955. A few months later, he appeared on the same bill with Presley, also in Lubbock. Holly's transition to rock was finalized when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets at a local rock show organized by Eddie Crandall, who was also the manager for Marty Robbins. As a result of this performance, Holly was offered a contract with Decca Records to work alone, which he accepted. According to the Amburn book (p. 45), his public name changed from "Holley" to "Holly" on February 8, 1956, when he signed the Decca contract. Among the tracks recorded for Decca was an early version of "That'll Be The Day", which took its title from a phrase that John Wayne's character said repeatedly in the 1956 film, The Searchers.
Buddy Holly statue on the Lubbock Walk of FameBack in Lubbock, Holly formed his own band, The Crickets and began making records at Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Norman had music industry contacts and believing that "That'll Be the Day" would be a hit single, he contacted publishers and labels. Coral Records, a subsidiary of Decca, signed Buddy Holly and The Crickets. This put Holly in the unusual position of having two record contracts at the same time. Before "That'll Be The Day" had its nationwide release, Holly played lead guitar on the hit-single "Starlight", recorded in April, 1957, featuring Jack Huddle. The initial, unsuccessful version of "That'll Be The Day" played more slowly and about half an octave higher than the hit version.
Holly managed to bridge some of the racial divide that marked rock n' roll music. While Elvis made black music more acceptable to whites, Holly won over an all-black audience when the Crickets were accidentally booked at New York's Apollo Theater (though, unlike the immediate response depicted in the 1978 movie The Buddy Holly Story, it actually took several performances for his talents to be appreciated).
After the release of several highly successful songs in 1958, Holly and the Crickets toured Australia in January and later the United Kingdom.
That same year, he met Maria Elena Santiago (born 1935 in San Juan, Puerto Rico) while she was working as a receptionist for Peer-Southern Music, a New York music publisher. He proposed to her on their very first date. She initially thought he was kidding, but they were married in Lubbock on August 15, 1958, less than two months after they met. "I'd never had a boyfriend in my life. I'd never been on a date before. But when I saw Buddy, it was like magic. We had something special: love at first sight," Maria told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on the occasion of what would have been the Hollys fiftieth wedding anniversary. She resides in Dallas.
Maria traveled on some of the tours, doing everything from the laundry to equipment set-up to ensuring the group got paid.
The ambitious Holly became increasingly interested in the New York music/recording/publishing scene, while his easygoing bandmates wanted to go back home to Lubbock. As a result, in 1959, the group split.