One of the great success stories of modern day entertainers is Mexican-American Vikki Carr, born Florencia Bisenta de Casilias Martinez Cardona on July 19, 1942 in EI Paso, Texas, to Carlos and Florencia Cardona. She is the eldest of seven children and has been called the “Calias” of contemporary music, a lady who sings with her heart and has released more than 50 best selling recordings including 17 gold albums embracing two languages. Deeply proud of her Mexican heritage and her Mexican-American parents, she always shares her lengthy christened birth name with her audiences.
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 stern, when it came to music he would allow her to participate in any endeavor. Although the Cardona family was very rich in love, concern and care for one another and others, when food was in short supply her mother would go into the San Gabriel Valley and retrieve wild growing berries from young cactus plants to feed her
Born Florencia Bisenta, De Casillas Martinez Cardona, July 19, 1942, in El Paso, Texas; daughter of a Mexican American family headed by Carlos Cardona, a self taught construction engineer and Florencia, nee Martinez, a homemaker; married Dan Moss, (divorced); married Michael Neilson (divorced); married Dr. Pedro De Leon, June 1993.
Made her debut as an angel singing “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fidelis” in Latin at a children’s school Christmas play in 1947;, employed as a bank clerk for in Los Angeles, CA, late 1950s; worked as a singer in nightclubs in and around the Los Angeles area, late 1950s; hired by Pepe Callahan’s Mexican-American band that led to a tour on the Nevada lounge circuit; released single “He’s a Rebel,” 1960; released “It Must Be Him,” 1961.
Awards: Three Grammy Awards for “It Must Be Him,” 1961; Woman of the Year Award, Los Angeles Times 1970; Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1981; Nosotros Golden Eagle Award, 1981; Woman of Year Award Hispanic Women’s Council 1984; Hispanic Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Hispanic Women’s Council, 1986; Silver Achievement Award, YWCA 1989; Golden Eagle Award, Nosotros 1989; Founder of Hope Award 1990; YWCA Silver Achievement Award 1990; Girls Scouts of America Award 1991; Hispanic Heritage Award, Washington, D. C. 1996; 17 Gold/Platinum Albums
Addresses: Management —Vi Car Entertainment, 6245 Vance Jackson Rd., San Antonio, TX 78230.
family. Carr first learned to sing in the school choir and school plays and regularly heard her father singing and playing a guitar among friends. 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 became employed with a Los Angeles bank as a bookkeeper.
She continued to sing in local bands and 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. She quickly learned a few songs in Spanish that led to a successful audition with Pepe Callahan’s Mexican-Irish Band. She 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.
Carr left the Pepe Callahan band and went solo in Reno, Nevada, traveling the lounge circuit with the Fabulous Woodsons, a vaudeville troupe. This was followed by Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, where she joined the Chuck Leonard Quartet, singing a mix of old favorites and more contemporary material on the lounge circuit. After one last tour on the lounge 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 in 1961.
One evening while singing at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, she became discouraged by the party atmosphere, occasional rudeness and obvious lack of attention to her performance. After she returned to her dressing room, there was a knock at the door and there stood a very tall man. It was Nat King Cole. He apologized for the group’s discourtesy and bad manners but strongly encouraged her to continue her career and never stop singing. “I was only a kid and he made a lasting impression,” she said.
Her rise to stardom began in Australia in 1960, where she recorded “He’s a Rebel” that became a major hit. That was followed by a another number one hit in England, “It Must Be Him;” the following year it was released in the United States and earned Carr three Grammy Award nominations. In the 1990s, the song was again used in the 1987 Academy Award winning motion picture, Moon struck that starred 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 servicemen and women. For two weeks she sang for the troops in combat areas before thousands of appreciative fans and stage locations were sometimes changed because of battle conditions. Since it was a very small entertainment troupe, she and Kaye were allowed to visit locales where only a few soldiers were entertained at a time. She also entertained more than 10, 000 soldiers at one time including those from the the 101st First Calvary as well as others on the United States aircraft carrier, Kittyhawk. 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.
Carr has performed at the White House for Presidents Richard Nixon in 1970, Gerald Ford in 1974 and sang for George Bush, Ronald Reagan and a 1967 Royal Command Performance for the Queen of England. Carr has tremendous international appeal and many of her sold out performances have occurred in Japan, Germany, Spain, Mexico, France, England, Australia, and Holland. She is one of the most popularand beloved recording artists in many Latin American countries. She has been a frequent guest star on major network television shows, including Perry Como, Dean Martin, Ray Anthony, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett and numerous other shows including many in the United Kingdom. She was also a regular guest host for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and Michael Jackson’s ABC radio show as well. In recent years she has made two guest appearances on television’s Baywatch series.
In 1998, Carr performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in a special tribute to Judy Garland. Vikki Carr and friends also performed a 1998 television special for the Public Broadcasting System special entitled “Vikki Carr, Memories, Memorias”. In addition to the popular songs listed throughout, additional hits include: “It Must Be Him,” “San Francisco,” “Nowhere Man,” “My Heart Reminds Me,” “Santiago,” “For Those Who Are Young,” “With Pen in Hand,” “For Once in My Life,” “Yesterday I Heard the Rain,” “Don’t Break My Pretty Balloon,” “Eternity,” “So Nice,” and “He’s a Rebel.” She has recorded more than 13 albums in Spanish and more 55 best selling recordings including 17 gold records.
In 1976, the Vikki Carr Scholarship Foundation was formed, which provides higher education scholarships to Hispanic teens. It has funded college tuition for more than 300 students 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 seeks to help young Latino students achieve their goals through a college education, something I myself was never able to do”, she said. Her humanitarian efforts have complimented such charities as The United Way, The American Lung Association, Cystic Fibrosis, Cerebral Palsy, The Muscular Dystrophy Association, and St. Jude’s Hospital.
Memories, Memoiras, Universal 012-15306-2.
Vikki Carr, Greatest Hits, Curb D2-77677.
The Unforgettable, Vikki Carr, EMI 7243-8-34468-2-7 Import.
It Must Be Him, The Best of Vikki Carr, Liberty 0777-7-93450-2.
Discovery! Miss Vikki Carr, Liberty LRP 3354.
Don’t Break My Pretty Balloon, Liberty LST 7565.
For Once in My Life, Liberty LST 7604.
From the Heart, Pair PDL 2-1082.
The Golden Songbook, United Artists UA LA-089-F2.
That’s All, Sunset SUS 5228.
Unforgettable, Pickwick SPC- 3613.
The Very Best of Vikki Carr, United Artists, UA LA 244G.
The Very Best of Vikki Carr, United Artists UA LA 385-E.
Vikki Carr Live at the Greek Theater, Columbia KG 32656.
The Ways to Love a Man, Springboard SPB 4027.
Gammond, Peter, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music, Oxford University Press, 1993.
Kaplan, Mike, Variety Who’s Who in Show Business, Garland Publishing, 1983.
Larkin, Colin, The Guiness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guiness Publishing, 1992.
Lax, Roger and Frederick Smith, The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Maltin, Leonard, Movie and Video Guide 1995, Penguin Books Ltd., 1994.
Morino, Marianne, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Ten Speed Press, 1987.
Osborne, Jerry, Rockin Records, Osborne Publications, 1999.
“Vicki Carr,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/x.dll, (January 1999).
“Vicki Carr,” Hot Comedy Productions, http://www.hotcomedy.com, (October 1999).
“Vicki Carr,” The Orleans Showroom, http://www.orleanscasino.com/entertainment/vikki_carr.html, (October 1999).
“Vicki Carr,” Verio, http://www.tvshowbiz.com/vikkicarr.html (October 1999).
Additional information was obtained in an interview with Vikki Carr on October 11, 1999.
—Francis D. McKinley
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