Ritchie Valens 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.
On February 3, 1959, on what has become known as The Day the Music Died, Valens was killed in a small-plane crash in Iowa, a tragedy that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Ritchie Valens was born in Pacoima, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, on May 13, 1941. His parents were Joseph Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Reyes. Brought up hearing traditional Mexican mariachi music, as well as flamenco guitar, R&B and jump blues, he expressed an interest in making music of his own by the age of 5. He was encouraged by his father to take up guitar and trumpet, and later taught himself the drums. One day, a neighbor 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. By the time he was attending Pacoima Junior High School, his proficiency on the guitar was such that he brought the instrument to school and would sing and play songs to his friends on the bleachers.