Ritchie Valens

Born Richard Valenzuela, Ritchie Valens was the first Mexican American rock star, with four hit records in just eight months. In 1958 the 17-year-old Valens hit Number Two on the pop charts with the doo-wop single, Donna. Its innovative flipside, La Bamba, was a modern interpretation of the son jarocho, a popular musical style from Veracruz, Mexico—an area with both African and Afro-Cuban musical influences. The juxtaposition of a distinctively Latin song with straight doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll perfectly symbolized bicultural Latinos in Southern California. Like many Mexican American youth of his generation, Valens did not speak Spanish and learned the lyrics of La Bamba phonetically.