Ritchie's Biography

by Dwight D. Lane

Ritchie Valens was born Richard Stephen Valenzuela, on May 13, 1941. His parents were Joseph, and Concepcion Valenzuela. They were poor people, his mother a waitress, and his father left when Ritchie was just a toddler. He was a wild kid, always getting into fights. One day his mother sent him to live with his aunt Ernestine Reyes, his mother felt that her husband could control her son better. It worked, when he was thirteen, he moved back in with his mother, a changed boy.

This did not stop little Richards ambitions to become a singer. He would sit around on the porches of family, and friends singing the songs of his Mexican ancestors. When Ritchie was nine he gained possession of a Spanish guitar, which he would not put down. In Jr. High he made his very own electric guitar. In a persons garbage he found an amplifier, and thus started his career. In high school Ritchie joined a band, The Silhouettes. They would sing in school assemblies, and private parties. That was until he was founded by Bob Keane, a big time record producer. Ritchie was immediately signed to the now infamous label, Del-Fi.

Ritchie’s first record was, "Come on let’s go." It was instantly successful, launching him on a nationwide tour, letting him meet his many fans. During personal appearances Ritchie showed great charm, and warmth, the same warmth he gave to his family, and friends. His dedication to humanity was as unassuming, and complete, as his devotion to God.

Ritchie’s second song, "Donna," was written for his sweetheart, Donna Ludwig (now Fox.) "I was driving down the street with a few of my girl friends, and all of a sudden the song came on the radio. I had to pull over because I was crying," remarked Donna Fox later on. This is Ritchie’s signature song, a haunting melody for a love that was lost so long ago. It brings tears to anybody’s eyes that hear it. Donna was backed with a predicted throw-away, La Bamba. La Bamba was an old Mexican Wedding whapongo. Shortly after the release of this single, Ritchie starred in a Movie titled, "Go, Johnny, Go." It was a musical mystery. In the movie Ritchie lip synched, "Ooh, My head." This movie is available through Block Buster, or any major movie store.

In January of 1959 Ritchie set out on a twenty-four day tour of the mid-western united states. Making the closely booked appearances by bus. This tour was torture for the young star. Several degrees below zero, and a bus with a broken heating system, caused many to receive frostbite. This infamous tour is known as "The Winter Dance Party." Still reconstructed in Mason City, Iowa, every year to remember Ritchie, J.P. Richardson, and Buddy Holly.

On February second the bus broke down, putting in jeopardy the tour, and the disappointment of many fans. So buddy decided to charter a plane from Dwyer Flying service in Mason City, Iowa.(Still in operation) The pilot Richard Peterson was inexperienced, and did not know how to fly the BeechCraft Bonanza. All were happy, they would be sleeping in a warm bed in a hotel in two hours. It was not to be. Within three minutes after take off, the single engine plane slammed into a frozen cornfield, killing, or seriously injuring all aboard.

Around nine in the morning, on February third the crumpled, ball shaped plane was found by a search plane sent up by Dwyer Flying Service. All four persons were dead.

Ritchie’s name still lives on, however it is widely forgotten. However I feel you cannot really understand the excitement of his music without having an original record. To me that is the ultimate way to listen to it. I choose to remember him as a kid who had a dream to be a famous musician, and he achieved the immortality that everyone dreams about.

Ritchie, we all miss you. We all know you are looking down on us with that big smile of yours, content, and happy. Rock on Dude!!!

Source: The Official Ritchie Valens Shrine (c) 1996 Dwight D. Lane
Photo: The Official Ritchie Valens Shrine (c) 1996