LA Is Honoring Pacoima's Ritchie Valens With A Rock 'N' Roll Festival And Freeway Dedication

(Courtesy Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez via artist Ignacio Gomez)

Pacoima's own Ritchie Valens was just 17 when the charter plane he was on crashed in Iowa, killing him and everyone aboard — including fellow musicians and icons Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. The tragedy became known as "the day the music died."

But this Saturday, Aug. 25 in Pacoima, Valens' music and legacy will be alive and well in his hometown as Los Angeles officials unveil the long-awaited Ritchie Valens Memorial Highway, with signs that will grace a section of the 5 Freeway between the 170 and 118. It's just part of an afternoon and night full of tributes to the Chicano rocker.

Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela on May 13, 1941 in the San Fernando Valley's Pacoima neighborhood. He attended what was then Pacoima Junior High School, then San Fernando High School, where he was discovered and, at 17, signed with a small Hollywood record label. He performed as Ritchie Valens at the suggestion of his producers, who felt he would appeal to a wider (whiter) audience by downplaying his Mexican heritage.

Valens first hit the charts with Come On, Let's Go in July 1958.

He followed that — still at 17-years-old — with the double A-side of Donna and La Bamba. The record went certified gold and La Bamba became one of the most iconic songs in rock 'n' roll history — quite a feat in 1950s America for a tune sung entirely in Spanish.

Valens died in the 1959 plane crash just a few months shy of his 18th birthday.

Saturday's celebration kicks off at 3 p.m. at Ritchie Valens Park, 10731 Laurel Canyon Blvd. It runs until 10 p.m. and will include musical tributes, food trucks and a screening of Valens' 1987 biopic La Bamba, starring Lou Diamond Phillips.

The festival is free and open to everyone. You can learn more here.


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