Ritchie Valenshas earned a special place in U.S. recording history…
The late Mexican American singer/songwriter’s groundbreaking 1958 sensation “La Bamba”is one of the newest recordings inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), is tasked with annually selecting 25 titles that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and are at least 10 years old.
Valens, who was born Richard Valenzuelain Los Angeles in 1941, spoke English as his first language. Though he never mastered Spanish, he learned Spanish songs from his Mexican-American family, including “La Bamba,” a song from the Mexican state of Veracruz that was a favorite dance piece at weddings.
Valens’ amplified guitar and power chords were a long way from the acoustic string band sounds of Mexico, but he successfully transposed the feeling and rhythm of the song to the back beat of early rock and roll. It was released as the b-side of his second single “Donna” in late 1958, and had become a hit on its own when he died at the age of 17 on February 3, 1959, in a plane crash that also took the lives of Buddy Hollyand J.P. Richardson, “The Big Bopper.” In spite of his brief life and a recording career that only lasted eight months, Valens’ success brought a new sound to the mainstream and inspired generations of Chicano musicians.
Los Lobos released its version of the song in 1987. “As a young boy growing up in East Los Angeles, I was curious and ultimately impressed by a rock song sung in Spanish — that song was ‘La Bamba’ by Ritchie Valens,” said Louie Pérez, one of the founding members and guitarist for Los Lobos. “It continues to be a hallmark in American music and an influence on all Latino music that followed.”
Spanish cellist, composer, and conductor Pablo Casals’ 1939 reimagining of the Bach cello suites was selected in the classical category. Raphaël Merlin, cellist of the acclaimed Ébène Quartet External, said: “There is a prophetic aspect to Pablo Casals’s work—he revealed his recording of the six Bach Cello Suites, and they instantly became our bible, and continue to offer revelations to cellists even to this day. At the same time, he also made a practical case for these works as an ideal way for a musician to exercise his or her mind, cultivate healthy playing technique, study counterpoint, and more. However you look at them, his recording of the suites still sounds like the opening of a new era.”
The new recordings to the National Recording Registry bring the total number of titles on the registry to 525, a small part of the Library’s vast recorded-sound collection of nearly 3 million items.
Here’s a look at the 25 recordings that were selected for inclusion in the registry in 2018:
2018 National Recording Registry
- Yiddish Cylinders from the Standard Phonograph Company of New York and the Thomas Lambert Company (c. 1901-1905)
- “Memphis Blues” (single), Victor Military Band (1914)
- Melville Jacobs Collection of Native Americans of the American Northwest (1929-1939)
- “Minnie the Moocher” (single), Cab Calloway (1931)
- “Bach Six Cello Suites” (album), Pablo Casals (c. 1939)
- “They Look Like Men of War” (single), Deep River Boys (1941)
- “Gunsmoke” — Episode: “The Cabin” (Dec. 27, 1952)
- Ruth Draper: Complete recorded monologues, Ruth Draper (1954-1956)
- “La Bamba” (single), Ritchie Valens (1958)
- “Long Black Veil” (single), Lefty Frizzell (1959)
- “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years” (album), Stan Freberg (1961)
- “GO” (album), Dexter Gordon (1962)
- “War Requiem” (album), Benjamin Britten (1963)
- “Mississippi Goddam” (single), Nina Simone (1964)
- “Soul Man” (single), Sam & Dave (1967)
- “Hair” (original Broadway cast recording) (1968)
- Speech on the Death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy (April 4, 1968)
- “Sweet Caroline” (single), Neil Diamond (1969)
- “Superfly” (album), Curtis Mayfield (1972)
- “Ola Belle Reed” (album), Ola Belle Reed (1973)
- “September” (single), Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
- “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” (single), Sylvester (1978)
- “She’s So Unusual” (album), Cyndi Lauper (1983)
- “Schoolhouse Rock!: The Box Set” (1996)
- “The Blueprint” (album), Jay-Z (2001)