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A Part Of The 5 Freeway Will Be Named After Ritchie Valens

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It's been almost 60 years since "the day the music died," when a plane crash took the lives of rock singers Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and J.P. Richardson (who was more famously known as "The Big Bopper"). But here in the L.A. area the legend of Valens still looms large, as his roots were based in the Valley. The Mexican-American singer was born in Pacoima as Richard Steven Valenzuela in 1941. During his teens, he'd establish himself as a forefather of Chicano rock, delivering hits such as "La Bamba" and "Come On Let's Go."

We'll be getting a new designation to remind us of Valens, as a stretch of the 5 Freeway will be renamed in his honor. "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," Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra, who authored the bill for the renaming, said in a statement. As noted at City News Service, the stretch of the 5 Freeway between State Routes 170 and 118 will be called “The Ritchie Valens Memorial Highway.” LA Weekly says that Bocanegra's office is working to organize a dedication event—future details should be announced on Bocanegra's Facebook page.

Valens was only 17 by the time of his death, but he'd managed to build a storied if short-lived career. In Pacoima, he honed his talents as a self-taught musician, and culled from different sources that included Mexican folk and R&B. He was 16 when he signed with Del-Fi, a label founded by the fabled Bob Keane. It was Keane who'd convinced Valenzuela to shorten his name to Ritchie Valens. Released on Del-Fi, "Come On, Let’s Go” would be one of Valens earliest hits. "Donna," a ballad about his high school girlfriend (he attended San Fernando High), climbed to number two on the charts, and "La Bamba" would be one of the first songs with Spanish lyrics to break into American Top 40 radio, according to LA Weekly.

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“He’s not only a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer but a role model for artists and youth all over the world," Valens' sister Connie said in a statement provided by Bocanegra's office.

Gil Rocha, a former bandmate of Valens' in The Silhouettes, said the singer always made it known where he came from. "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 Rocha. "Ritchie loved his community, and had big plans to help young neighborhood kids."