Ritchie Valens (Richard Steven Valenzuela Reyes) was born on May 13, 1941 in Pacoima, California to Mexican parents Joseph Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Valenzuela and second born out of five siblings.
While growing up Ritchie developed love for music, hearing Mariachi songs to jump blues to R&B music. This made young Ritchie want to create his own music by the young age 5. Later on he got to learn how to play many different instruments, but even then playing guitar was his passion. In his junior high school he would bring his guitar and play and sing to his friends. Later on there was an accident of the debris crashing on his school which killed his best friend which developed Ritchie’s fear of flying, he was not in school that day because he was in his Grandfather’s funeral. In 1952 his dad died because of complications after inhaling mustard gas in WWI. Years after that happened Ritchie joined his first band, the Silhouettes, at age 16 and even though they had local gigs that was not the end of Ritchie.
In one of the gigs the head of Del-Fi record label spotted Ritchie and loved his performance with the group, yet only wanted Ritchie. In May 1958, Bob Keane invited Ritchie to audition and Ritchie had a very successful audition since after that he signed with Del-Fi records. There was a problem with Ritchie Valens name though, Keane wanted Ritchie to just shorten his name to Valens to make it more appealing to people in the radio or listening to the Radio. After a while of recording musics and singles Valens had really successful songs which were “Donna” (which is a popular ballad about his girlfriend in highschool called Donna Ludwig).
Later on releasing the song he is mostly known for “La Bamba”, which was a really successful hit in the 50’s this lead to him being on the road and making appearances on shows like the ‘Alan Freed’s Christmas Show’. On February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly was going on tour with his band but then the tour bus experienced some trouble which made him charter a plane but The Big Bopper traded seats with one of the members, while Ritchie Valdez won the seat on the plane from a coin toss with Holly’s guitarist. The plane took off during a snowstorm but it was not so soon when the plane came crashing down in Clear Lake, Iowa in a Cornfield, killing young Ritchie, The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and the pilot Roger Peterson. Both The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were supposed to be riding that plane, and rumors say that the pilot was new to flying being 21 years old and earned his certificate four years before the crash happened and became a commercial pilot in 1958 and was not supposed to be the pilot for that plane. This was called “The Day that Music Died” since 3 of the most famous musical artist had died and other musicians have disappeared from the scenes all the sudden some were being drafted to the military, inspiring the song titled “American Pie”.
After dying at the young age of 17, Ritchie Valens still left a legacy with his formula of “Latin American music + Rock Music = Something Different” which had inspired other artist like Selena, Carlos Santana to Robert Quine. And remembering his success, his nephew toured worldwide to sing his uncles songs, a movie was also created to remember the young artist called “La Bamba” (1987) after his famous song. La Bamba was a fusion of a Mexican Folk tune that originated in Veracruz and Rock-and-Roll. Valens did not really know spanish yet understood his mother (a fluent spanish speaker) and mostly spoke spanglish. Yet he was coached on how to pronounce and sing the words correctly. La Bamba has no literal english translation but it seems to come from the verb “bambolear” which means to shake or to swing. The song originally was heard in weddings where the bride and the groom would dance to such song which was mostly performed with Mariachi bands.
This was not necessarily a big band piece yet there is a variation of instruments in this song. An instrument that can mostly be heard is Ritchie’s guitar, the bass, another guitar, the drums, the maracas and a piano (trumpets are sometimes heard in the song for some reason). It reached the top 40 of the US charts but after the Lobos re-recorded it years later it became the #1 hit in America. It again became a song used in weddings and parties like before.
In 1988 Weird Al Parodied the famous song and called it “Lasagna” making it about mostly Italian things mostly Italian foods. Lyrics:Original VersionEnglish TranslationPara bailar La BambaPara bailar La Bamba se necessita una poca de graciaUna poca de graciaPa’ mi, pa’ ti, ay arriba, ay arribaAy, arriba arribaPor ti seré, por ti seré, por ti seréYo no soy marineroYo no soy marinero, soy capitánSoy capitán, soy capitánBamba, bambaBamba, bambaBamba, bamba, bamPara bailar La BambaPara bailar La BambaSe necessita una poca de graciaUna poca de graciaPara mi, para ti, ay arriba, ay arribaPara bailar La BambaPara bailar La BambaSe necessita una poca de graciaUna poca de graciaPa’ mi, pa’ ti, ay arriba, ay arribaAy, arriba arribaPor ti seré, por ti seré, por ti seré Bamba, bambaBamba, bambaBamba, bambaIn order to dance the BambaIn order to dance the Bamba you will need a little bit of graceA little bit of graceFor me and for you, and Up and Up and Up and Up I’ll goFor you I will, for you I will, for you I willI am not a sailorI am not a sailor, I am a captainA captain, a captainBamba, bambaBamba, bambaBamba, bamba, bamIn order to dance the BambaIn order to dance the Bamba you will need a little bit of graceA little bit of graceFor me and for you, and Up, and Upand Up, and Up I’ll goIn order to dance the BambaIn order to dance the Bamba you will need a little bit of graceA little bit of graceFor me and for you, and Up, and UpFor you I will, for you I will, for you I willBamba, bambaBamba, bambaBamba, bambaWork Cited