After years of being bypassed, Ritchie Valens, the teenage rocker from Pacoima who was killed in a 1959 plane crash, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March along with six other 2001 honorees.
Valens, whose death at 17 came just five months after he charted his first hit, will join Michael Jackson and Paul Simon (previously inducted as members of the Jackson 5 and Simon & Garfunkel), as well as Queen, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Solomon Burke and the Flamingos. The inductees were announced Tuesday in New York.
"I can't express the feeling here in Pacoima," said Ernestine Reyes, the aunt who helped raise Valens and still lives in the same house where he became the first Latino rock star with the hits "La Bamba," "Donna" and "Come On Let's Go." (Valens' mother, Connie Valenzuela, died in 1987.)
"We're so gloriously happy," Reyes said Tuesday. "This is a dream come true . . . I'm so glad we finally got somebody in there [in addition to] Santana."
Valens has been eligible for induction since the hall was created in 1986. He had been passed over each year, at least in part because his career was cut short by the crash that also killed Buddy Holly and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, a tragedy poeticized as "the day the music died" by Don McLean in his 1972 hit "American Pie."
"My comment is brief: It's about time," said Del-Fi Records founder Bob Keane, who originally signed Valens.
"I feel it is good for the integrity of the Hall of Fame," Keane added. "Just because the guy wasn't around long enough to build up a big backlog of hits. . . . It's like a bank, they want to know what your assets are. But this is all about rock 'n' roll, and he definitely deserves a big place."
More than 40 years after his death, Valens--born Richard Steven Valenzuela--also continues to hold a big place in the hearts of Latinos.
"I'm 23 years old, and knew I was going to be a musician when I discovered Ritchie Valens," a fan named Ricky wrote in a message posted on the Ritchie Valens Fan Club's Web site (http://www.geocities.com/ ~saborami). "I'm a Latino, and I live in the Valley. . . . He has meant more to me than anything. When people have told me that a Latino has no place in rock 'n' roll, I have him to turn to."
The 1987 biographical film "La Bamba," starring Lou Diamond Phillips, directed by Luis Valdez and featuring Los Lobos playing Valens' music, continues to win Valens new fans, many of whom post affectionate messages to the fan club Web site.
Among the other new Hall of Fame inductees, Jackson, Simon, Aerosmith and Queen were considered obvious choices, but two choices are certain to generate debates among rock fans.
The Flamingos, the Chicago doo-wop group whose biggest hit, "I Only Have Eyes for You," peaked at No. 11 in 1959, and Philadelphia soul singer Burke, whose biggest pop hit, "Got to Get You Off My Mind," didn't even make the Top 20, got nods over widely influential rockers Patti Smith and Lou Reed.
Other Hall of Fame finalists who didn't make the cut this year were Brenda Lee, Bob Seger, AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Island Records founder Chris Blackwell is this year's nonperformer elected to the hall, while veteran guitarist James Burton and Chuck Berry's pianist Johnnie Johnson enter the hall in its second class of "Sidemen" inductees. Johnson earlier this month filed a lawsuit against Berry claiming he was cheated out of songwriting credits and millions of dollars in royalties on many of Berry's biggest hits.
The induction ceremony will be held March 19 in New York.
"Lord willing, I will be there," said Valens' aunt Reyes, whose 31-year-old son, Ernie, has adopted the name Ernie Valens for a touring Ritchie Valens tribute act. "I've got cancer. I hope to God I can travel out that way. It's one of my dreams."