1993 Ritchie Valens
Legends of American Music
- Honors the short but impressive career of the teenage pioneer of Chicano and Latin rock
Stamp Category: Commemorative
Set: Legends of American Music
Value: 29c First-Class postage rate
First Day of Issue: June 16, 1993
First Day City: No official first Day City. Both Cleveland, Ohio and Santa Monica, California held cancellation ceremonies, but release was nationwide on the First Day of Issue.
Printed By: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
Format: Semi-jumbo sheet stamp; printed in panes of 35
Why the stamp was issued: The Ritchie Valens stamp was issued as part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll/Rhythm & Blues se-tenant set of seven. This was the first full set in the Legends of American Music Series.
About the stamp design: The designer of the stamp was Mark Stutzman who also designed the Elvis, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly stamps in this set. Art direction was by Howard Paine.
Calligrapher Julien Water did the typography (lettering) on the sheet’s top selvage. The selvage lettering includes the full name of the Legends of /American Music Series in small upper-case letters. The Rock ‘n’ Roll/Rhythm & Blues lettering is in an edgy, exciting typeface befitting the legends of two important musical styles.
Special design details: All sevenstamps on the Rock ‘n’ Roll/Rhythm & Blues sheet, including Ritchie Valens, have some design differences from their booklet-format stamps issued the same day. There is no thin frame line around the images on the sheet stamps, while there is one on the booklet stamps. The line of type that runs up the left side of the sheet stamp is longer that on the booklet stamps. Some colors on the sheets are less vibrant as well. Ritchie doesn’t have the ripped ticket stub effect that the Elvis and Bill Haley stamps do.
First Day Ceremonies: First Day ceremonies were held in Cleveland, Ohio (site of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame) and at the Santa Monica Pier in California with Dick Clark, former host of American Bandstand as the emcee. These weren’t official First Day Cities because the stamps went on sale nationwide on the same day.
About the Legends of American Music Series: TheLegends of American Music Series debuted on January 8, 1993 and ran until 1999. More than 70 artists are represented from all styles of music: rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country and western, jazz and pop, opera and classical, gospel and folk. In addition to individual singers and Broadway musicals, subjects include bandleaders, classical composers, Hollywood songwriters and composers, plus conductors and lyricists.
The Legends of American Music Set was a huge advancement for diversity because it honored many Black and female artists.
The 29c “young Elvis” – #2721, kicked off the series in a big and very public way. Its design was voted on by over one million Americans, about 75% of whom favored the young Elvis over the “old Elvis” version.
The History the Stamp Represents: Richard Steven Valenzuela, better known as Ritchie Valens, was born on May 13, 1941, in Pacoima, Los Angeles, California. Valens was a pioneer of Chicano and Latin rock, and is often considered the first Latino performer to successfully cross over to mainstream rock ’n’ roll.
Valenzuela grew up in a home filled with music – Mexican mariachi, flamenco, rhythm and blues, and jump blues. By the time he was five he knew he wanted to create music and spent time with his uncles and cousins at family gatherings learning to play the guitar. Even though he was left-handed, he worked hard to learn to play right-handed from his family members. Valenzuela also played trumpet and drums.
When Valenzuela was 15 years old, two planes collided and crashed in his school yard. Though he wasn’t there that day, the incident gave him a fear of flying. When he was at school, Valenzuela brought his guitar and would sing and play songs with his friends on the bleachers. When he was 16, Valenzuela joined a band, The Silhouettes, as a guitarist. When the band’s singer left the group, he stepped in and made his singing debut with the band on October 19, 1957.
Valenzuela was quickly acknowledged for his skills. He would make up lyrics and add his own riffs to popular songs while on stage. In May 1958, a fellow student approached the owner of Del-Fi Records, Bob Keane. He told Keane there was a local musician he needed to see, who everyone called “the Little Richard of San Fernando.” This piqued Keane’s interest and he went to see Valenzuela play. Keane was immediately impressed and invited Valenzuela to audition for his label.
Keane signed Valenzuela after his first audition on May 27, 1958. Keane encouraged him to change his name. They chose “Ritchie” because there were a lot of “Richards” already performing, and his last name was shortened to “Valens” to widen his appeal. Valens and his new band had their first recording session that July. During the session, they recorded Valens’ original song, “Come On, Let’s Go,” as well as the song “Framed.”
Keane’s label released Valens’ recording within a few days. “Come On Let’s Go” quickly became a regional hit and gained him a teen audience in other parts of the country. Valens returned to the studio to record another original song, “Donna,” written about his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. That song was accompanied by Valens’ rock ’n’ roll adaptation of the classic Mexican folk song, “La Bamba.” “Donna” quickly climbed the 1958 charts to become a top 10 hit, and “La Bamba” earned a gold record for over one million copies sold.
With his star quickly rising, Valens was encouraged to drop out of school so he could perform around the country. That December he appeared on American Bandstand, bringing his music to a national audience. He also performed on Alan Freed’s Christmas Show. Then in January 1959, he joined the Winter Dance Party Tour with Buddy Holly, Dion and Belmonts, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. They were set to perform 24 shows over three weeks throughout the Midwest.
After performing in Clear Lake Iowa on February 2, the musicians were slated to play in Moorhead, Minnesota the next day. There were issues with their tour bus, so Buddy Holly chartered a plane. Valens reportedly flipped a coin with a member of Holly’s band for his seat, and won. The plane took off in a mild snow storm, but something went wrong, and it crashed just file miles away. Everyone aboard – Valens, Holly, Richardson, and the pilot – was killed. At just 17 years old, Valens was the youngest of those killed in the crash.
Shortly after the crash, a tribute song, “Three Stars” was released. Then in 1971, Don McLean released “American Pie,” which became a number one hit and memorialized the event as “the day the music died.” There have been many tributes and memorials to stars who died in the crash. A park in Pacoima was named for Valens in the 1990s, as well as a section of highway in the San Fernando Valley. Valens’ story was retold on the big screen in 1987 in the hit film, La Bamba.