Rock and Roll with a Latin Beat
Ritchie Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela on May 13, 1941, in Pacoima, California. He is a rock and roll pioneer and forefather of Chicano rock with his work as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Part of his legacy will always be tied to “the day the music died” (that is, the phrase coined by Don McLean in the lyrics for his song “American Pie“) on February 3, 1959, when he perished in a plane crash in Clear Lake Iowa, with other rock and roll artists Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and the pilot Roger Peterson. Valens was only 17 years old. His songs “Donna” and “La Bamba” have become golden oldies music favorites.
Valens wrote the song “Donna” for his girlfriend Donna Ludwig. They were both students at San Fernando High School, CA, and had met at party where Valens was playing. The story is that he told her about the song, but the first time she heard it was on the radio in her car with her girlfriends, and she was thrilled. In 1959, “Donna” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The B-Side of the single was “La Bamba.”
There have been numerous covers of the song. There was the version by Los Lobos, which was for the soundtrack to the 1987 biopic of Ritchie Valens titled La Bamba. Other artists who have covered the song include Marty Wilde, Johnny Crawford, Bobby Fuller, Clem Snide, Cliff Richard, The Fleetwoods, The Youngbloods, Donnie Osmond, Misfits, MxPx, Reel Big Fish, Hep Stars, and Bobby Vee. Wu-Tang affiliate Cappadonna sampled the refrain in “Oh-Donna.”