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Ritchie Valens: 1941-1959: Performer

Early Interest In Music

Ritchie Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela on May 13, 1941, and grew up in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Pacioma, California. His parents, Joseph Steve and Concepción (Reyes) Valenzuela, were working at a munitions plant at the time of his birth. When he was three years old his parents separated, and young Richard Valenzuela spent the next several years with his father. The elder Valenzuela held a number of different jobs—tree surgeon, miner, and horse trainer among them—and introduced his son to a love of Latin music at an early age. While his father played the guitar, Valens plucked along on a ukulele, later adding the guitar, trumpet, harmonica, and drums to his collection of instruments.

Joseph Steve Valenzuela died from diabetes-related complications in 1951, and his mother moved back into the family home with her new husband and her other children. The family eventually included Ritchie's older half-brother, Robert Morales, younger half-sisters, Connie and Irma Ramirez, and a younger half-brother, Mario Ramirez. Valens's stepfather worked as an agricultural worker, and his mother worked as a waitress and housekeeper, yet money was tight in their household. Ritchie spent much of his adolescent years living with various relatives and as a result attended a number of schools throughout the Los Angeles area while he was growing up. After his step-father separated from his mother, the family was forced to move into a tiny house in Pacioma in the San Fernando Valley, but keeping up the mortgage payments was a constant struggle.

At a Glance . . .

Born Richard Steven Valenzuela on May 13, 1941, in Pacioma, California; died on February 3, 1959, in Clear Lake, Iowa. Religion: Roman Catholic.

Career: Recording artist: "Come On, Let's Go" (single), 1958; "Donna/La Bamba" (single), 1958; "Fast Freight/Big Baby Blues" (single), 1958; Ritchie Valens (album), 1959; "That's My Little Suzie" (single), 1959; "Little Girl/We Belong Together" (single), 1959; Ritchie, (album), 1959; Ritchie Valens in Concert at Pacioma Junior High, (album), 1960; Ritchie Valens' Greatest Hits, (album) 1963; The Best of Ritchie Valens (album), 1981.

Award: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inductee, 2001.

As a student at Pacioma Junior High and later at San Fernando Valley High School, Valens often brought his guitar to play and sing at the lunch hour and after class. Playing with the nine-piece Silhouettes from October of 1957, Valens gained a reputation throughout the region for his guitar work. The Silhouettes played small club dates and school concerts during the winter of 1957 and into the spring of 1958. One date, at the Pacioma Legion Hall on May 2, 1958, led to Valens's big break.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Theodosius I to David Watmough Biography - David Watmough comments:Ritchie Valens: 1941-1959: Performer Biography - Early Interest In Music, Valens's Big Break, Fatal Crash Became A Legend