Richard Steven Valenzuela(May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959), better known as Ritchie Valens, was a pioneer of rock & roll and, as a Mexican-American born in Los Angeles, California, became the first Hispanic rock & roll star.
Valens’ hits included ‘Come On, Let’s Go’, ‘Donna’, and ‘La Bamba’; the latter became the title of the 1987 movie about his life (La Bamba), which introduced Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie and co-starred Esai Morales as his older half-brother Bob Morales.
Valens was a pioneer of Hispanic rock and influenced the likes of Chris Montez and Carlos Santana.
In early 1959, Valens was travelling the Midwest on a multi-act rock & roll tour. In the early morning following a February 2nd performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, a small four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft departed into a blinding snowstorm and crashed into Albert Juhl’s cornfield several miles after takeoff at 1.05am. The crash killed Valens, along with co-performers Buddy Holly, J.P. ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson, and the pilot Roger Peterson. This event inspired singer Don McLean’s popular 1971 ballad ‘American Pie’, and immortalized February 3rd as “The Day The Music Died”.
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, and he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.