Ritchie Valens Biography

Richard Steven Valenzuela, also known as as Ritchie Valens, was a singer, songwriter and guitarist. This biography profiles his childhood, life, music career and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: May 13, 1941

Nationality: American

Famous: Died Young Guitarists

Died At Age: 17

Sun Sign: Taurus

Also Known As: Richie Valens, Valens, Ritchie, Richard Steven Valenzuela

Born in: Pacoima

Famous as: Singer, Songwriter


father: Joseph Steven Valenzuela

mother: Concepcion Valenzuela

Died on: February 3, 1959

place of death: Clear Lake

Cause of Death: Plane Crash

More Facts

education: San Fernando High School

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Richard Steven Valenzuela, who later came to be known by his stage name Ritchie Valens, was an American rock and roll prodigy who went on to establish a new genre of music by introducing Mexican tunes into mainstream music. Valens was a prodigiously talented musician who had learnt to play the guitar when he was still a child and in fact showed great interest in creating music when he was only five years old. Valens started off as a musician like most people of his age by joining a band when he was still in school and his rare talent became visible to music producers who were always on the hunt for new talent. Ritchie Valens went on to record his first album when he was only sixteen years old and some of his most famous songs are ‘La Bamba’ and ‘Donna’. Valens might have started off as a guitarist but before long he was able to write and compose his own songs and even as a teenager he was invited to music festivals along with other established musicians. Valens died at a very young age due to an accident and the day of his death has forever been known as ‘The Day the Music Died’.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Richard Steven Valenzuela, who later came to be known as Ritchie Valens, was born on 13 May, 1941 in San Francisco Valley in Los Angeles, California to Joseph Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Reyes. His parents were of Mexican origin and Valens grew up listening to traditional Mexican music.
  • Valens went to Pacoima Junior High School and music was a passion from an early age. Ritchie Valens’ father Joseph supported him wholeheartedly and he learned to play the guitar along with the trumpet.
  • Richard Valens quickly mastered the guitar even though he was a left hander and by the time he was 16 he became a member of a band named ‘The Silhouettes’ as a guitarist. Later on he became the vocalist as well.
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  • In 1958, Bob Keane, the owner of a recording company named Del-Fi Records, took interest in Ritchie Valens and signed him up right after his first audition. It was Bob Keane who asked him to change his name to Ritchie Valens.
  • Ritchie Valens’ very first recordings were done in Gold Star Studios situated in Hollywood and the songs featured in the album titled ‘Ritchie Valens - The Lost Tapes’ published by Del-Fi Records. Two well-known tracks from that album are ‘Ritchie’s Blues’ and ‘Donna’. The song ‘La Bamba’ became a huge hit later on.
  • Ritchie Valens left school in the year 1958 to concentrate on his music career and Bob Keane of Del-Fi Records became his promoter who was responsible for setting up his shows and programmes. Throughout the year he performed on television and stage. He appeared on the show ‘American Bandstand’ and did shows in Hawaii, New York and Philadelphia.
  • Ritchie Valens had become one of the most well-known stars in the industry by the time he was only 17 and was asked by Alan Freed to appear in his film ‘Go Johnny Go’ in a minor role.
  • In early 1959 Ritchie Valens was invited to be a part of the Winter Dance Party Tour across the Midwestern part of America. It was meant to be a travelling musical act featuring several artists. The artists braved terrible conditions and many of them were taken ill but Ritchie Valens performed to the best of his abilities. He also played the drum during this tour.
Major Works
  • Ritchie Valens had a very short career as a musician but had great talent and he produced plenty of work that is enjoyed by music lovers to the present day. His most famous and important work was the song ‘La Bamba’, which was released in 1958 and although it was a remake of a Mexican song, it was Valens’ improvisation that made the song the hit that it went on to become.
Awards & Achievements
  • Ritchie Valens did not win any major awards during his lifetime but his talent and impact on the music industry was beyond question as he was the first musician who brought Mexican music to the fore. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Ritchie Valens did not get married but he did have one relationship while he was still in school with a girl named Donna Ludwig. She was the subject of the hit song ‘Donna’.
  • Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash with two fellow musicians on 3 February, 1959 while travelling in a chartered flight from Clear Lake, Iowa. That day came to be known as ‘The day the Music Died’.

See the events in life of Ritchie Valens in Chronological Order

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Article Title
- Ritchie Valens Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- September 29, 2017
Ritchie Valens

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