Ritchie Valens was a Mexican-American songwriter and singer responsible for several hit songs such as “La Bamba.” However, his career was short-lived because Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash when he was just 17 years old. The tragedy was later called as the “day the music died” in the hit song American Pie.
In this article, we are going to know more about the life and the tragic death of Ritchie Valens.
Ritchie Valens or Richard Steven Valenzuela was born in Pacoima, California, on May 13, 1941. As he grew up, he developed a love for music, and he soon learned to play different kinds of instruments. But, the guitar soon became his passion. In an interview, Valens said that he got inspiration from other sources such as popular R&B, traditional Mexican music, and innovative rock performers such as Little Richard.
When he was 16 years old, Ritchie Valens joined his first band called The Silhouettes. They played local gigs where Ritchie Valens was spotted by Bob Keane, the head of the Del-Fi record label. Keane helped Valens climb the ladder of fame.
Not long before Valens auditioned for Keane’s record, he released his first single entitled “Come On, Let’s Go” under Del-Fi records. The single eventually became a minor hit, which is why Keane encouraged Valens to shorten his last name to be more radio-friendly. Ritchie Valens even reached tremendous success when he released his second album, which featured the hit songs “Donna” and “La Bamba.” The song “Donna” was a nod to Valens’ high school girlfriend, Donna Ludwig, and the song reached the number two spot of the pop charts. On the other hand, the song “La Bamba” became a revolutionary song that brought together rock and roll elements and traditional Mexican folk tune.
In 1958, Valens entertained a national audience when he appeared on American Bandstand. In January 1959, he went on a tour called the Winter Dance Party Tour with Dion and the Belmonts, Holly, and Richardson. The tour was set to last for three weeks, and the performers are booked to play at 24 concerts in the Midwest.
On February 2, 1959, Ritchie Valens finished the Iowa leg of his Winter Dance Party tour. He was set to perform on Moorhead, Minnesota, the next day. Coincidentally, Holly got a chartered plane to get to Minnesota because Valens’s tour bus had some problems. Some reports say that Valens rode Holly’s plane because he won a coin toss against Holly’s guitarist. Richardson also rode the plane because he traded places with another passenger.
The plane flew during a light snowstorm, and after five miles in the air, the plane went crashing down into a cornfield. All four passengers, including Holly, Richardson, the pilot, and Valens, were killed.
Ritchie Valens’ Legacy
Ritchie Valens died when he was only 17 years old. After the terrible accident, his self-titled album was released, and it performed well on the charts. Aside from that, a live recording called Ritchie Valens in Concert at Pacoima Junior High was released. His life story was brought into the big screen by the movie La Bamba, released in 1987. In 2001, Ritchie Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.