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Died On This Date (February 3, 1959) Ritchie Valens / Rock ‘n Roll Pioneer

Posted by themusicsover on February 3, 2010

Ritchie Valens (Born Richard Valenzuela)
May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959

The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly

L-R: The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly

Ritchie Valens was one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n roll as well as a pioneer of Chicano rock.  Born in Los Angeles, Valens was raised by parents who embraced the modern America where they now lived, but also kept one foot firmly planted in their Mexican roots.  From an early age, Valens was exposed to Mexican folk music, but also absorbed the sounds of R&B and jump blues he heard on the radio.  After his one and only audition while just 16 years old,  Valens was signed to Bob Keane’s Del-Fi Records in May of 1958.  In just a matter of months, Valens released hits like “Donna,” “Come On, Let’s Go,” and of course, “La Bamba,” which quickly became his signature song.   He would later become an inspiration for the likes of Los Lobos, Carlos Santana and Los Lonely Boys.  But less than a year after he signed his first recording contract, he died in one of pop music’s most famous tragedies.  February 3, 1959…a date that has been called “the day the music died.”  While on a U.S. mid west tour called the Winter Dance Party, Valens, Buddy Holly, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were on a small Beechcraft airplane en route from Mason City, IA to Moorhead, MN.  The winter weather was taking its toll on the traveling musicians.  Waylon Jennings had originally been slated to fly ahead, but gave up his seat to Richardson at the last-minute.  Shortly after take off, the plane carrying rock ‘n roll’s brightest new stars crashed into an empty field killing everyone on board.  Initial reports blamed pilot error on Roger Peterson, but future examinations vindicated him, putting the blame squarely on the bad weather conditions.  Ritchie Valens  was just 17 at the time of his death.

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