Feature Writer Roger Cicchese – The Day the Music Died

It was a typical Friday afternoon in late November, just a week prior to the eagerly awaited Thanksgiving holiday. At the time I was in the seventh grade and in three weeks or so I’d be celebrating my twelfth birthday. Early in the afternoon we got really hot and sweaty in gym class during the first two periods. I was really exhausted when the bell finally rang, signaling the end of our weekly exercise in physical education. Somehow I never felt more educated after those double doses of teacher guided running, jumping, falling down, and being yelled at, for 90 minutes.

As I emerged from the lower regions of the boys locker rooms and came racing up the stairs, too fast, like so many rowdy junior high boys, I heard a sound that just didn’t make sense. I was frozen cold in my tracks because the sound was one that totally demanded and consumed my attention like something you never want to hear, especially when you are a kid. The sound was a woman sobbing. I followed the sound. The sobbing was somehow familiar in a way. The woman’s voice seemed recognizable, even familiar. Though I’d never heard her cry or sob before and I hope never to hear that again. I was lead to the large and cavernous science lab where we had our weekly classes and many other students were schooled in biology.

When I arrived I found my science teacher sitting alone at the front of an empty classroom with a small television nearby. It was tuned to the local NBC affiliate where a reporter was providing emerging details: “The flash from Dallas, Texas… President Kennedy has been shot,” and shortly thereafter: as I stood there spellbound, he announced: “The president is dead.”

I attended a residential school for blind and visually impaired students during the 50’s and 60’s and the school didn’t have a public address system to coordinate situations such as this with students and staff. So we were kind of on our own. Needless to say I was speechless at the news. I recall drifting out of the science lab as if in a dream, not knowing what to do next. It felt as if my world was falling apart. You see, the previous year I had acted the part of President Kennedy in a sixth-grade stage play and even got to do my young imitation of his famous Boston accent for the part. Until his untimely passing, my favorite comedy record was “The First Family” presented by Vaughn Meader, another Kennedy mimic.

The rest of that Friday afternoon recollection is strange because teachers acted like nothing had happened. Classes went on as usual. Most students were aware of the events unfolding, but teachers seemed to feel that keeping us busy was more important than helping us cope or talking with us about what was occurring.

Finally the school day ended and transportation arrived to take me and a few of my mates home to our families. As we rode together we imagined various scenarios of what we’d do to the person who had done this terrible thing to our beloved president. Each cruel and terrible punishment we came up with was worse than the previous one.

As you can imagine, the next several days were spent camped out by the television or by the radio. I was so enthralled by this history in the making I not only listened all day, but at bedtime I plugged in my earphones and fell asleep wearing the news coverage into my troubled young dreams.

The events of that time 50 years ago in November 1963 forever changed my life. The changes had little to do with politics. It was then that I determined that some time during my life I would work in radio news. I realized that even an eleven-year-old boy could cry for a perfect stranger. I came to understand that we learn about history, not only from books, but sometimes we get to live it. Once in a while we even get to make history ourselves. Most of all I realized that a person who does not have the sight of his eyes had perhaps started to develop what would eventually become insight.

I agree with the song writer of “American Pie,” Don McLean, that November 22, 1963 truly was “the day the music died.”

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