Richard Steven Valenzuela (May 13, 1941 - February 3, 1959), better known as Ritchie Valens, was a pioneer of rock and roll and, as a Mexican-American, became the first Hispanic rock and roll star.
Valens' hits included "Donna" and "La Bamba"; the latter became the title of a 1987 movie about his life, which introduced Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie and co-starred Esai Morales as his older half-brother Bob Morales.
Valens was a pioneer of hispanic rock and influenced the likes of Chris Montez and Carlos Santana.
In early 1959, Valens was traveling the midwest on a multi-act rock and roll tour. In the early morning following a February 2nd performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, a small four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza took off into a blinding snow storm and crashed into Albert Juhl's corn field several miles after takeoff at 1:05 a.m. The crash killed Valens, along with co-performers Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and pilot Roger Peterson. This event inspired singer Don McLean's popular 1971 ballad American Pie, and immortalized February 3rd as The Day The Music Died. Ritchie Valens is interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California.
Ritchie Valens has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6733 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, California, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 1988, Ken Paquette, a Wisconsin fan of the ‘50s era, erected a stainless steel monument depicting a steel guitar and a set of three records bearing the names of each of the three performers. It is located on private farmland, about one quarter mile west of the intersection of 315th Street and Gull Avenue, approximately eight miles north of Clear Lake. He also created a similar stainless steel monument to the three musicians near the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.