One of the great success stories of the modern day is Mexican-American Vikki Carr, born Florencia Bisenta de Casilias Martinez Cardona on 19 July 1942 to Carlos and Florencia Cardona. She has been called the "Calias" of contemporary music, a lady who sings with her heart. She is one of the most accomplished entertainers in the United States, Latin America and Europe and has released 59 best selling recordings including 17 gold discs embracing two languages.
Born in El Paso, Texas but raised in the San Gabriel Valley of California, Vikki Carr is the eldest of seven children and is deeply proud of her Mexican heritage. Raised in a strict family, her father was often referred to as "the priest" because of his sermons to his children. He was very supportive of her career development, installed a strong work ethic in his children and although very demanding, when it came to music he would allow his daughter to participate in any undertaking. Although the Cardona family was rich in love, food was in short supply. To make ends meet Florencia would go into the San Gabriel Valley and pick the wild growing berries from young cactus plants to feed her family.
Carr first learned to sing in the school choir and made her debut, as an angel, at the tender age of four singing “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fidelis” in Latin at a children’s school Christmas play. By the time she graduated from high school, she was singing with local bands around the Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.
After she graduated from high school with college preparatory courses, she was forced to seek permanent employment to help her family financially and started work as a bookkeeper with a Los Angeles bank
She continued to sing in local bands on evenings and weekends. While her father was shopping at an automobile dealership, he came across an old friend who mentioned he knew of a band looking for a bilingual singer. Vikki quickly learned a few songs in Spanish enabling her to audition with Pepe Callahan's Mexican-Irish Band. She was successful and made her professional debut at the Chi Chi Club in Palm Springs, California with Callahan under the adopted stage name, "Carlita", after her father Carlos.
After leaving the Pepe Callahan band to go solo in Reno, Nevada she traveled the lounge circuit with the Fabulous Woodsons, a vaudeville troupe. This was followed by bookings in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, where she joined the Chuck Leonard Quartet, singing a mix of old favorites as well as more contemporary material on the lounge circuit.
One evening while performing at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, she became discouraged by the party atmosphere, occasional rudeness and obvious lack of attention to her performance from some of the audience members. After the show, there was a knock on her dressing room door. She was amazed at the man standing there for it was none other than Nat King Cole. He apologized for the group's discourtesy and bad manners and strongly encouraged her to continue her career and never stop singing. "I was only a kid and he made a lasting impression," she said.
After finishing her last tour on the circuit with an act billed as the Andrini Brothers, she took 25 dollars, and with the continued encouragement of her father and an accordion playing friend, she made recordings of popular songs and won a recording contract with Liberty Records. She recorded He’s a Rebel, which first became a hit in Australia.
The title was soon followed by the unforgettable release It Must Be Him, which charged up the charts to No.1 in England. One year later, the single was released in the United States and earned Carr three Grammy Award nominations. The international hit emerged again when she and the song were featured in the storyline of the Academy Award winning motion picture Moonstruck starring Cher and Nicolas Cage.
A string of hits followed including With Pen in Hand for which she received her fourth Grammy Award nomination, The Lesson, Can't Take My Eyes Off of You and For Once in My Life.
In 1966, she went to Vietnam with performer Danny Kaye to entertain United States wartime soldiers. For two weeks she sang for the troops in combat areas before thousands of appreciative fans. This was no easy engagement, the conditions were hard and the stage locations were sometimes changed because of battle conditions. Carr said in later years “that it provided one of the most fulfilling experiences of her career”.
The following year, she appeared in a critically acclaimed performance in South Pacific at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City and in 1969 in the Unsinkable Molly Brown with the John Kenley Players in Ohio.
Vikki Carr’s success spans four decades, she has performed for five United States Presidents Her music embraces two languages and she is among the first artists to bridge the cultures of the United States and Latin America. Her international appeal was so great that she was invited to perform at a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth. Additionally she packed out the London Palladium setting a precedent for her sold out concerts in Germany, Spain, France, England, Australia, Holland and Japan.
Columbia Records signed Carr in 1970, releasing such favourites as Love Story, Live at the Greek and One Hell of a Woman as well as Ms America.
One of her deep desires was to record an album in Spanish and in 1972 went to the head of Columbia Records for permission to do so. While her request was initially met with resistance, Carr had a solution to every argument. “My Anglo audience has asked me to do this” she responded firmly. Several months later, she released her first Spanish language album, Vikki Carr en Espanol. Somos Novios, Grande, Grande and Se Acabo became momentous hits and Vikki was established as one of the most popular and loved recording artists in the Latin World.
Since making her first personal appearance in Mexico in 1972, the country has had a love affair with Vikki Carr. She is the first non-National named Mexico’s “Visiting Entertainer of the Year”. Playing nightly to standing ovations and appearing on numerous Mexican programs, her two-hour special broke ratings records, attracting more than half of the viewers in the country.
In 1980, because of the enormous success of her first Spanish album, Columbia Records in Mexico offered her a contract and beginning with Vikki Carr Y El Amor, her triumphs were unbridled. Songs like Total, Disculpame, Esos Hombres, Mala Suerte earned her Gold and Platinum discs in the United States, Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador. Carr followed with Grammy Award nominees Simplemente Mujer in 1985, Cosas del Amor in 1992, Brindo a la Vida, al Bolero y a Ti in 1993 and Recuerdo a Javier Solis in 1995, taking three of the four awards.
She has been a frequent guest star on major network television shows, including Perry Como, Dean Martin, Ray Anthony, Jackie Gleason and Carol Burnett. Vikki also taped six specials for London Weekend Television. She was the first female to regularly guest host for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and has been both a visitor and guest host on Michael Jackson's ABC radio show
Vikki made her acting debut on the Bing Crosby Show. She has had several guest roles in popular television series ranging from Mod Squad to Fantasy Island, and has co-hosted the nationally syndicated Mrs. America and Mrs. Woman of the World Pageants. More recently, Carr has made two guest appearances on the popular series Baywatch.
In 1981 she was awarded her very own “Star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1983, her starring performance in “I’m Getting My Act Together” and “Taking It on the Road” broke house records at the Westport Playhouse in St Louis.
In 1998, Carr performed at New York's Carnegie Hall in a special tribute to Judy Garland. Another highlight was the recording of the PBS television (Public Broadcasting System) special entitled Vikki Carr: “Memories, Memorias. It was a salute to the English-language hits of the 1940’s and the 1950’s, which were originally composed by Latinos. Produced by KCET/Hollywood, the program recreates the elegant setting of Hollywood supper clubs and theatres where popular artists of the era performed. The show, which features Jack Jones, Pepe Aguilar and Arturo Sandoval, was first released on video and CD through the national PBS pledge campaigns for 1999.
Respected as both artist and a humanitarian, she devotes time to many charities including The United Way, The American Lung Association, Cystic Fibrosis, Cerebral Palsy, The Muscular Dystrophy Association and St Jude’s Hospital. For 22 years she has held benefit concerts to support the Holy Cross High School in San Antonio. In 1971 she established the Vikki Carr Scholarship Foundation, which provides higher education scholarships to Hispanic teens in California and Texas. The Foundation has awarded more than 300 scholarships totaling over a quarter of a million dollars.
"My voice is a gift and a gift is nothing unless you can share it. I didn't like what I was reading and hearing about the image of Latinos and in particular Mexican-Americans. My publicist and friend told me to do something about it. The Foundation is my way of doing something” said Carr,” The Foundation seeks to help young Latino students achieve their goals through a college education, something I myself was never able to do", she said.
The diversity of her rich voice is impressive. She can belt out the blues or touch the heart with a soft romantic ballad. Frank Sinatra said, "She possesses my kind of voice," Dean Martin called her "the best girl singer in the business," and Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald both named her among their three favourite female singers of all time.
In recognition of this unique talent EMI have released a new box set, which highlights the very best of her singing talents. Vikki has helped compile the three-disc edition and included are some very rare recordings, some previously unreleased songs, foreign language tracks, classic standards as well as her biggest hits. The liners are by Randy Cordova, Vito Cifaldi and a special message from Vikki.
For a chance to win a copy of this outstanding box set please enter our Christmas competition which is available by clicking here.
Vikki Carr: The Ultimate Collection
For more information please visit the website at www.vikkicarr.net
1. It Must Be Him
2. Cross Your Heart
3. Nothings New
4. Be My Love
7. I Only Have Eyes For You
8. Strangers In The Night
9. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top
11. Better Than Anything
12. Where Are You
13. If Ever Your Lonely
16. Real Live Boy
17. Hey, Look Me Over
18. Poor Butterfly/Stay (Medley)
19. San Francisco
20. Across The Tracks
21. Tell Her Of Our Love
22. Somewhere In The Night
23. Color of Love
24. Time After Time
25. I Will Wait For Love
26. Is She In Love
1. Mas Que Nada (Pow, Pow, Pow)
2. Call Me (Dime)
3. Constant Rain
4. Pretty Butterfly
5. How Insensitive (Insensatez)
6. Laia Ladaia (Reza)
7. Quiet Nights
10. Es Rebelde (He's A Rebel)
11. Cuando Calienta El Sol
12. Que Sea El (It Must Be Him)
13. Carnival (Manha De Carnival) (Live)
14. Yesterday I Heard The Rain (Esta Tarde Vi Llover) (Live)
15. Can't Take My Eyes Off You (Extended) (Live)
16. Some Of These Days/After You've Gone (Live) (Medley)
Some Of These Days
After You've Gone
17. With Pen In Hand
18. Just For You
19. The Ways To Love A Man
20. Until It's Time For You To Go
21. I'll Walk The Rest Of The Way
22. True Love's A Blessing
23. Make It Rain
24. For Once In My Life
25. None But The Lonely Heart
26. Forget You
1. Put On A Happy Face
2. Baby Face
3. Everything I've Got
4. Beside A Bridge
5. He's A Rebel
6. Bye Bye Blackbird
7. Them There Eyes
8. If You Love Me (Really Love Me)
9. Nowhere Man
10. My Heart Reminds Me
11. No Other Love
12. River Of Tears
13. Look At That Face
15. Anyone Who Had A Heart
16. Your Heart Is Free Just Like The Wind
17. I'm So Glad You Found Me
18. Never My Love
19. A Bit Of Love
21. There I Go
23. Color Of Love
24. Forget You (Magari)
25. It Must Be Him (Si E Lui)
26. That's All