Ritchie Valens – The First Chicano Rock And Roll Star

Richard Steven Valenzuela or better known as Ritchie Valens was born on May 13, 1941 in Pacoima, California in the United States. Ritchie Valens was a 17 year old, Mexican-American rock ‘n’ roll artist who invented Latino rock with his unique spin on a traditional Mexican folk dance song. Valens learned how to play the guitar and joined a local band called the “Silhouettes” in 1958. In the “Silhouettes” he became the lead singer, this is when he first started to get recognition and attention for his musical talents.

In May of 1958, Valens auditioned for Bob Keane, the label owner of Del Fi, after Keane heard Valens performing at a local movie theaters and was soon signed onto the label on May of 1958. The most popular period for Ritchie Valens was the 8 months before his death in 1959 because that is when he was in the national spotlight, and when he went from a being a Mexican-American 17 year old in southern California to having a few hit songs. During this time period, he recorded a few sessions at the Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, California. His debut single was “Come On, Let’s Go” that fell short of Top 40. His next single was titled “Dona” this song reached #2 on the Hot 100s Billboard chart. “Dona was his highest charting single. This song was a slow ballad, written for his high school girlfriend. His other song “La Bamba” eventually reached #3 on Billboard Hot 100 years later, but at the time it was #22 on the charts. In this song he combined traditional Hispanic music with rock ‘n’ roll. In December of 1958, Valens made an appearance on American Bandstand and Alan Freed’s Christmas Show.

Ritchie Valens’ musical career was cut short just as he was reaching success, when he died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. Aboard the plane were Buddy Holly, Jiles Perry Richardson and the pilot Roger Peterson. They were all traveling to North Dakota to perform in the Winter Dance Party tour. The small aircraft crashed in a snowstorm minutes after takeoff in Iowa claiming all the lives aboard. Ritchie Valens was only 17 at the time of the plane crash.

This period of time is known as “The Day the Music Died” when many of the key players were out of the music business. The reason why I chose this artist is because when I was younger I watched the “Ritchie Valens” movie which was about his short, influential life. After watching the movie I have always been interested in learning more about Ritchie Valens. I’ve grew up singing along to “La Bamba” which is common in Latino households. This song has a well-known melody, that many Americans are familiar with although they may not know the Spanish only lyrics.

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