Ritchie Valens Biography: Age, Net Worth, Spouse, Parents, Death

May 21, 2024 0 Posted By Haruna Ayuba

Richard Steven Valenzuela, also known as Ritchie Valens, was an influential American guitarist, singer, and songwriter who played a significant role in the Chicano rock movement. Tragically, Valens passed away in a plane crash only eight months after achieving fame.

Among his notable achievements, Valens successfully transformed the Mexican folk song La Bamba into a rock hit in 1958, and also achieved success with the song Donna, reaching number two on the American charts.


  • Full Name: Richard Steven Valenzuela
  • Nickname: Ritchie Valens
  • Date of Birth: May 13, 1941
  • Age: 83 years old (as of 2024)
  • Gender: Male
  • Place of Birth: Pacoima, California, United States
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Musician
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm)
  • Parents: Joseph Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Reyes
  • Siblings: Robert Morales and Mario Ramirez
  • Spouse: Donna Ludwig (m. 1958; until his death in 1959)
  • Children: N/A
  • Relationship Status: Deceased
  • Net Worth: $500k

Early Life and Education

Richard Steven Valenzuela, now 83 years old, was born on May 13, 1941, in Pacoima, California, to Joseph Steven Valenzuela and Concepcion Reyes. He had two half-brothers, Robert “Bob” Morales and Mario Ramirez, and two younger sisters, Connie and Irma.

Growing up, Valens was exposed to traditional Mexican mariachi music, flamenco guitar, R&B, and jump blues. He showed an interest in making music from a young age and was encouraged by his father to learn guitar and trumpet. Despite being left-handed, he learned to play the guitar in the traditional right-handed way.

Valens experienced the 1957 Pacoima mid-air collision while attending Pacoima Junior High School, which led to a fear of flying due to recurring nightmares of the disaster. He would bring his guitar to school and perform for his friends on the bleachers.

At 16, Valens joined a local band called The Silhouettes as a guitarist and eventually became the main vocalist. He made his performing debut with The Silhouettes on June 19, 1957. Valens also attended San Fernando High School.

Personal Life

Valens had a romantic relationship with Donna Ludwig, his high school sweetheart, from 1957 until he passed away. Ludwig’s parents did not approve of her dating a Hispanic man. Valens wrote the song Donna for her.

Their relationship became strained as Valens became more popular and went on tour. After his death, Elvis Presley had one of his bodyguards set up a meeting with Ludwig so that he could learn all about Valens. In 1987, she attended the premiere of La Bamba, a biographical film about Valens’ life and career.


A talented musician who taught himself, Valens was a skilled singer and guitarist. During his performances, he often spontaneously created new lyrics and added fresh riffs to popular songs while playing.

Bob Keane, the owner and president of the small record label Del-Fi Records in Hollywood, received a tip in May 1958 from San Fernando High School student Doug Macchia about a young artist from Pacoima named Richard Valenzuela.

The performer was known to the kids as “the Little Richard of San Fernando.” Intrigued by the

comparison to Little Richard, Keane went to watch Valenzuela perform at a Saturday-morning show at a movie theater in San Fernando. Impressed by the performance, he invited Valenzuela to audition at his home in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, where he had a small recording studio in his basement.

His recording equipment included an early stereo recorder and a pair of Neumann U-47 condenser microphones. After the first audition, Keane signed Valenzuela to Del-Fi on May 14, 1958. At this point, the musician adopted the name “Ritchie” because Keane wanted it to be different from the numerous ‘Richards’ at that time.

Similarly, Keane suggested shortening his surname to “Valens” from Valenzuela to broaden his appeal beyond any specific ethnic group. Valens was prepared to enter the studio with a full band backing him, including musicians like René Hall, Carol Kaye, and Earl Palmer.

The first songs recorded at Gold Star Studios in May 1958 were Come On, Let’s Go and Framed. The next record, featuring Donna and La Bamba, sold over one million copies and received a gold disc from the Recording Industry Association of America.

Net Worth

Ritchie Valens, at the time of his death, was worth roughly $500k.


Following their performance in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2, 1959, which ended at midnight, Holly, Richardson, and Valens departed from the Mason City airport in a small plane chartered by Holly.

Valens was able to be on the plane after winning a coin toss with Holly’s backup guitarist Tommy Allsup. Waylon Jennings, Holly’s bassist, voluntarily gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson, who was unwell with the flu.

At approximately 12:55 a.m. on February 3, 1959, the four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza (N3794N) took off for Fargo, North Dakota, and tragically crashed shortly after. The cause of the crash was attributed to the pilot Roger Peterson’s loss of control, as he was not qualified to fly in the deteriorating weather conditions.

The impact of the crash resulted in the instant death of all four men. Valens, at the age of 17, was the youngest to perish in the tragic event, suffering fatal head injuries and blunt-force trauma to the chest, alongside Holly, Richardson, and Peterson.

Social Media

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  • La Bamba
  • Come On, Let’s Go
  • Ooh, My Head
  • Stay Beside Me
  • Donna
  • We Belong Together
  • Boney Moronie

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