1950s Rock n’ Roll Legend Ritchie Valens Gets California Highway Designation
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Sacramento, California —California approved State Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra’s, D-Pacoima, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 23 this week, officially naming a portion of Interstate 5 between State Route 170 and State Route 118 in the northeast San Fernando Valley after rock and roll icon Ritchie Valens.
The “La Bamba” singer was raised in the northeast San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima before appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the 1950s. Valens was the pioneer of Chicano rock. He passed away in a tragic airplane crash in 1959 at the age of 17. Valens was the pioneer of Chicano rock.
“Ritchie Valens is a part of the cultural fabric of the 39th District and the northeast San Fernando Valley,” Assemblymember Bocanegra said. “His music inspired and influenced a generation of Chicano artists in our community and throughout the world. It’s only fitting to name this segment of the I-5 after a Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer who grew up right here in Pacoima.”
Richard Stevens "Ritchie Valens" Valensuela attended Pacoima Junior High School and became popular for bringing his guitar to school to sing songs for his friends. He then went on to play at dances, gatherings, and parties throughout the northeast end of the San Fernando Valley with an up-and-coming group, “The Silhouettes.”
Destined to be a star, people began to take notice of his vocal and guitar skills, which drew large crowds, and he was dubbed as “Little Richard of the Valley.”
“The Ritchie Valens family would like to express their gratitude for the legislation to be submitted by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra on behalf of our brother Ritchie Valens in the renaming of a section of the I-5 freeway,” said Connie Valens, sister of Ritchie Valens. “Ritchie became a Rock N' Roll icon at the age 17; he's not only a Rock N' Roll pioneer, but a role model for artists and youth all over the world.”
After Ritchie was discovered in 1958 at an American Legion Hall in Pacoima, he recorded Come On, Let’s Go and became an instant sensation, leading to an appearance on American Bandstand. He achieved even greater success with his second single, a dual-sided record featuring the songs “La Bamba,” and “Donna.” The record sold over a million copies.
“Ritchie Valens represented the San Fernando Valley with honor and respect, at performances across the nation he would proudly announce he was from the valley,” said Gil Rocha, who performed with Valens in The Silhouettes. “Ritchie loved his community, and had big plans to help young neighborhood kids.”
Over the coming months, the local CalTrans office will prepare both the sign design and an estimate of the production and installation costs, both of which will be paid from non-state resources. Bocanegra’s office is working with family members and with non-profits in the area to organize a dedication event that will be open to the community.
“Ritchie’s promising career ended prematurely after a tragic plane accident, but his memory lives on through his music and the cultural influences he had on society,” said Assemblymember Bocanegra.
Raul Bocanegra is the Democratic Majority Whip in the California State Assembly. He represents the 39th Assembly District, which includes the Los Angeles communities of Arleta, Granada Hills, Lakeview Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hollywood, Pacoima, Shadow Hills, Sun Valley, Sunland-Tujunga, Sylmar and the City of San Fernando.
Actor Lou Diamond was the star in the 1987 biographical film, "La Bamba." The story depicts the rise from nowhere of early rock and roll singer Ritchie Valens who died at age 17 in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.