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Ritchie Valens Biography

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Richard Steven Valenzuela (May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959), better known as Ritchie Valens, was a pioneer of rock and roll and, as a Mexican-American with Yaqui American Indian roots born in Pacoima, California , became the first Mexican American rock and roll star.

The professional career of Ritchie Valens lasted a period of eight months, during which time he recorded some very influential songs of the 1950s rock and roll era.

He was born on Pacoima, a suburb of Los Angeles, on May 13, 1941. 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. By the time he was attending Pacoima Jr. 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.

When he was sixteen years old, he was invited to join a local band named The Silhouettes as guitarist. Later on, the main vocalist left the group and Ritchie assumed this position as well. In addition to the performances with The Silhouettes, he would play solo at parties and other social gatherings.

Buddy Holly, fed up with the conditions on the buses, decided to charter a small plane for himself and the Crickets to get to the next show on time, get some rest, and get their laundry done. After the February 2, 1959 performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly, Richardson (who pleaded with Waylon Jennings for his seat because he was stricken with flu), and Valens (who had won Tommy Allsup's seat after a coin toss), were taken to Clear Lake airport by the manager of the Surf Ballroom.

The plane, a four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza, departed into a blinding snowstorm and crashed into farmer Albert Juhl's cornfield shortly after takeoff. The crash ended the lives of all three passengers, as well as the 21 year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. This event inspired singer Don McLean's popular 1971 ballad "American Pie", and immortalized February 3 as "The Day the Music Died". The event also inspired the Eddie Cochran song Three Stars, which specifically mentions Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Valens.

Ritchie Valens is interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6733 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, California. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Ritchie's mother died in 1987 and is buried alongside him.

The 1987 biopic film La Bamba introduced Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens and co-starred Esai Morales as his older half-brother Bob Morales.

Valens was a pioneer of Chicano rock and Spanish language rock and roll and influenced the likes of Chris Montez and Carlos Santana. Valens' classic song "Come on Let's Go" was covered by The Ramones and The Paley Brothers (jointly, The Ramones on guitar, bass, and drums and The Paley Brothers on vocals).
Artist information courtesy of their Wikipedia entry, which is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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