Jelly Roll Morton, the self-proclaimed inventor of Jazz, spoke of “the Latin tinge” in music. It was always there, as far as he was concerned. It’s also true with rock and roll. In the Fifties in Los Angeles, Latinos there embraced early rhythm and blues and vocal group harmony. Ritchie Valens was a high school kid from the San Fernando Valley who played guitar and was crazy about Little Richard. Consider this – Valens’ professional career lasted barely six months. Here we are, more than 50 years after his untimely death, and his influence can still be felt. He was only 17 when he died. When I look at photos of Valens, I see a pudgy kid with spotty skin and a glowing smile, slinging a Stratocaster and oozing confidence. We have one of his stage outfits on display here in the Rave On case. It’s a two-piece vest and pants set with rhinestones trimming the lapel of the vest. He bought it at Nudie’s, the famous Western wear tailor in North Hollywood. Hank Williams and Elvis Presley wore clothes from Nudie. To me, that sort of encapsulates how cool Valens was. That and his enduring music, of course. Latino Heritage Day at the Rock Hall will reflect on Ritchie Valens as a major figure and represent some rising talent from today.
The Rock Hall’s Latino Heritage Festival will take place on the Main Stage of the Rock Hall on Sunday, August 30 from Noon to 4 p.m.