Ritchie Valens, The First Latino Rocker
Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens, born Richard Valenzuela on May 13, 1941, in Pacoima, California, was the first Chicano rock 'n' roll artist, scoring his best remebered hit, "La Bamba," only a month before his untimely death. Of Mexican-American and Native-American descent, Richard Valenzuela grew up in poverty in Pacoima, California. He took up acoustic guitar at age nine and manufactured his first electric guitar at eleven. While attending Pacoima Junior High School, he joined the mixed-race band the Silhouettes and quickly became the group's frontman. In the spring of 1958, he auditioned for Bob Keene, owner of the Hollywoodbased label Del-Fi Records. Keene signed him to the label, shortening his name to Ritchie Valens, and his first recording session yielded "Come On, Let's Go," a major R&B and moderate pop hit. In August he made his first U.S. tour with Eddie Cochran and appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. He returned to Los Angeles to record his own ballad "Donna" and a rocked-up version of the traditional Mexican folk song "La Bamba," later performing at his old junior high school and filming a segment for the film "Go,Johnny, Go."

In November "Donna" became a smash pop and R&B hit, quickly followed by the major flip-side pop hit "La Bamba." He again appeared on American Bandstand and subsequently joined "The Winter Dance Party" tour of Buddy Holly, J. P "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and Dion and the Belmonts. Following a concert at Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 2, 1959, Ritchie Valens, then seventeen, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper died when their chartered plane crashed shortly after takeoff. Released posthumously in April, Ritchie Valens's debut album contained "Come On, Let's Go," "Donna," and "La Bamba," plus "That's My Little Suzie" a minor pop hit. Within a year, Del-Fi had assembled two more albums of his recordings.

Ritchie Valens attracted a new audience with the 1987 movie and soundtrack "La Bamba," featuring musical performances of his songs by Los Lobos. Unreleased tapes by Ritchie Valens discovered in 1990 were issued by Ace Records as The Lost Tapes.

Ritchie Valens, The 1st Latino Rocker (Beverly Mendheim)
The Day The Music Died (Larry Lehmer)
The Rockin' Fifties (Brock Helander)