Ritchie Valens (born Richard Steven Valenzuela; on 13 May 1941 in Pacoima, California, USA – February 3, 1959) was a Mexican American singer, songwriter and guitarist.
A Rock and Roll pioneer and a forefather of the Chicano rock movement, Valens’ recording career lasted only eight months. During this time, however, he scored several hits, most notably “La Bamba”, which was originally a Mexican folk song that Valens transformed with a rock rhythm and beat that became a hit in 1958, making Valens a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement.
Valens died in a plane crash outside Clear Lake, Iowa while on the Winter Dance Party tour. Also killed in the crash were the pilot of the plane and rock and roll stars Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. The song American Pie, by Don McLean is a tribute to the three musicians who died, and a reflection of the changes in music since their deaths. In the song he calls the day of their death “the day the music died,” a phrase that came from newspaper headlines that announced the tragedy on February 3, 1959
Brought up hearing traditional Mexican mariachi music, as well as flamenco guitar, R&B and jump blues, by the age of 5 he expressed an interest in making music of his own. He was encouraged by his father to take up guitar and trumpet, and it is also known that he later taught himself the drums. One day, a neighbour came across Ritchie trying to play a guitar that had only two strings. He re-strung the instrument, and taught Ritchie the fingerings of some chords. While Ritchie was left-handed, he was so eager to learn the guitar that he mastered the traditionally right-handed version of the instrument.
Richard Steven Valenzuela (May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Ritchie Valens, was an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. A rock and roll pioneer and a forefather of the Chicano rock movement, Valens' recording career lasted eight months, as it abruptly ended when he was killed in a plane crash.
During this time, he had several hits, most notably "La Bamba", which he adapted from a Mexican folk song. Valens transformed the song into one with a rock rhythm and beat, and it became a hit in 1958, making Valens a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement.
On February 3, 1959, on what has become known as "The Day the Music Died", Valens died in a plane crash in Iowa, an accident that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as pilot Roger Peterson. Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Ritchie Valen's song La Bamba is ranked #98 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Rock & Roll.