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50 years ago today, a plane crash killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and LA's own Richie Valens, who was only 18 and emerging as one of rock's earliest stars.

Ritchie Valens was born in Pacoima, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, on May 13, 1941 of Mexican descent. His parents were Joseph Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Reyes. Brought up hearing traditional Mexican mariachi music, as well as flamenco guitar, R&B and jump blues, he expressed an interest in making music of his own by the age of 5. He was encouraged by his father to take up guitar and trumpet, and later taught himself the drums. One day, a neighbor came across Ritchie trying to play a guitar that had only two strings. He re-strung the instrument, and taught Ritchie the fingerings of some chords. While Ritchie was left-handed, he was so eager to learn the guitar that he mastered the traditionally right-handed version of the instrument.

By the time he was attending Pacoima Junior High School, his proficiency on the guitar was such that he brought the instrument to school and would sing and play songs to his friends on the bleachers. When he was sixteen years old, he was invited to join a local band named The Silhouettes as a guitarist. When the main vocalist left the group, Ritchie assumed this position as well. On October 19, 1957 Valens made his performing debut with the group.[4] In addition to the performances with The Silhouettes, he played solo at parties and other social gatherings. -- Wikipedia

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