Ritchie Valens article page for the Elvis Presley biography History of Rock and Roll
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3 February 1959: Ritchie Valens dies at the age of 17
February 3rd, 1959, a young boy with superstar potential was killed. Ritchie Valens was just seventeen years old and although still in his first year as a recording artist, had already made a name for himself in the music industry.
Ritchie was the first Mexican American singer to achieve national recognition, paving the way for others. Ritchie Valens will always be remembered for his emotional renditions of his self penned hit songs Donna ' and 'La Bamba '.
Ritchie Valens Biography
The tragic news that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and "The Big Bopper" (J P Richardson) had been killed in a plane crash in America's Midwest, on the 3rd of February 1959, not only stunned millions of fans around the world, but left a vacuum in rock 'n'roll history that has never been filled."Ritchie you were just starting to realize your dreams,
All three were at the peak of their popularity and together had sold over 10 million records in just over 12 months. Of the three, Buddy Holly's loss was felt the deepest He was the brightest new star since Elvis and his potential was unlimited. He had achieved 10 hits in America and Britain and his influence was beginning to be felt throughout the Pop world.
Ritchie Valens was born on 13 May 1941 in Pacoima, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. His real name was Richard Valenzuela. At nine years of age he got his first (Spanish) guitar.
As a twelve-year-old Ritchie had already written several songs, most of which were inspired by Mexican music. He also displayed considerable singing talent, and became a feature at school assemblies singing and playing the guitar.
When Ritchie was seventeen he was spotted by Bob Keene, president of Del Fi Records in Hollywood, and offered recording contract. Bob Keene also became his manager.
His first single, the self-penned tune 'Come On Let's Go', sold 750,000 copies and earned him quite a reputation among teenagers all over the country.
Shortly after this, he wrote a song for his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. The song 'Donna' was recorded and rapidly made the 1958 hit charts.
It became his biggest all-time hit and first million seller it was a two-sided hit and the f lip side 'La Bamba' was a traditional Spanish song which Ritchie sang in Spanish after adding a rock'n'roll beat to it. That song was also a million seller.
Ritchie was the first Mexican-American singer to make it, and was a hero to Mexican American communities, just a young boy but a hero.
And so he was one of the acts to travel with 'The Winter Dance Party: The group had been performing every night then traveling four, five, or six hundred miles to successive dates fully clothed to combat the sub-zero temperatures.
When Ritchie heard of Buddy's intended flight with Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup he tried to convince Allsup to give up his seat.
Tommy didn't want to but finally agreed to flip a coin to decide who would go, provided he could use The Big Bopper's new sleeping bag if he lost. The Big Bopper agreed. Allsup flipped the coin, and Ritchie called "heads': "Heads" if was.
And so the flip of a coin decided his fate. The three stars arrived at the airport about 12.40a.m. And were met by their 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson, and Jerry Dwyer the owner of the plane. It was a little before 1a.m. when the single engine aircraft took off.
Peterson was inexperienced with the equipment involved with flying by instruments. He was actually not supposed to fly under conditions requiring navigation by instruments, but did not see the special advisories concerning poor visibility.
Peterson probably became confused in reading the unfamiliar gyroscope) and didn't realize he was descending and not ascending.
The wreckage was spotted at approximately 9.35a.m. When a worried Dwyer decided to investigate, after not having heard from the airport of destination.
Holly and Valens lay twenty feet from the plane while The Big Bopper was thrown forty feet away.
So ended the brief career of a young star that could have become a stellar showman.
In his tribute to the fated three stars Eddie Cochran sings of Ritchie:
Everyone calls me a kid, But you were only 17,
Now almighty God has called you
Up Oh so far away,
Maybe it's to save some boy or girl, Who might have gone astray,
And with your star shining,
Through the dark and lonely night
To light the path,
And show the way
The way that's right''
The best of Ritchie Valens. Rhino 1991 CD R2 70178 Del-Fi
The best of La Bamba. Rhino Records 1988 CD R2 70617 Rhino
La Bamba BMG WSC 99044 CD
The Lost Tapes 1992 Ace CDCHD 317
The Ritchie Valence Story 1994 Ace CDCHD 499
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