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GRAMMY Museum Hosts Ceremony and Exhibit Honoring Ritchie Valens

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, July 08, 2009, at 02:25PM
IMGP0660 Ed Fuentes

The GRAMMY Museum's Robert Santelli gives opening comments during the Ritchie Valens Day ceremony.

Richard Steven Valenzuela's name was softened to appeal to a mass audience, yet his rock adaptation of a Mexican American folk tune, "La Bamba," may be the song he is most celebrated for.

On Friday, the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live opened a special exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of Ritchie Valens death. The festivities included a ceremony highlighting the city's declaration of July 3rd as Ritchie Valens Day.

Joining GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Robert Santelli were Connie Valens Lemos, sister of the Pacoima raised rock star; Jay P. Richardson, whose father J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson died with Valens and Buddy Holly in the February 3, 1959 plane crash; Esai Morales, who portrayed Ritchie Valens half-brother Bob Morales in the 1987 bio pic "La Bamba;" and Councilmembers Richard Alarcon, Jan Perry, and Tom LaBonge.

"The life of Ritchie Valens is more than just about a rock 'n' roll legend," said Alarcon. "It was about Latinos emerging and being recognized for the positive contributions they were making."

Valens was only 17 when he began an eight-month career that ended in Iowa, on the eleventh night of the Winter Dance Party Tour. The bus rides were uncomfortable and unheated, so a small plane was charted by Holly to get a step ahead for the next show. A coin was flipped to see who take the last seat.

The single engine Beechcraft Bonanza crashed in the snow a few minutes after take off: Rock 'n' roll had its first tragedy.

That lost innocence is now lore. It was defined as "the day the music died" by Don McLean on the 1971 single "American Pie" where he recalled how February made him "shiver, with "the bad news" he delivered on doorsteps as a paper boy.

"The GRAMMY Museum is a place where the musical spirit of Ritchie Valens lives on," Santelli said during the presentation.

In a touching gesture, Connie Valens Lemos pointed out former Buddy Holly guitarist Tommy Allsup, the so called loser of the coin flip that decided who would ride on the plane. "We are bonded," she said. "From that moment . . . its like, he was my brother."

Friday's ceremony was pushed back one hour to accommodate a press conference held just across the street at Staples Center, announcing ticket details for the Michael Jackson memorial service. Pieces from Jackson's wardrobe are also on display in the museum, one floor below the area where a young star who died 50 years ago––whose music was among the first to break musical ethnic barriers-–was being remembered.

It's almost enough to make you shiver.


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