Born 1941 as Richard Steven Valenzuela in Pacoima, California, Mexican American singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ritchie Valens was a pioneer of Chicano rock and Latin rock and inspired many musicians of Mexican heritage.
Valens influenced the likes of Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, and Carlos Santana, as he had become nationally successful at a time when very few Latinos were in American rock and pop music. He is considered the first Latino to successfully cross over into mainstream rock.
Valens’ recording career lasted eight months, as it abruptly ended when he died in a plane crash. During this time, he had several hits, most notably “La Bamba”, which he had adapted from a Mexican folk song. Valens transformed the song into one with a rock rhythm and beat, and it became a hit in 1958, making Valens a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement. He also had the American number 2 hit “Donna”.
On February 3, 1959, on what has become known as “The Day the Music Died”, Valens died in a plane crash in Iowa at the age of 17, an accident that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as pilot Roger Peterson.
Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
These beautiful photos that captured portrait of Ritchie Valens not long before his death.