EXCLUSIVE Interview: The Legendary Vikki Carr

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on November 19, 2018

HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —  Born Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona in El Paso, Texas and raised in Southern California, the eldest of seven children, Vikki Carr, began performing at the age of four singing Adeste Fidelis in Latin at a Christmas program.  She was signed to a contract with Liberty Records in 1961.

She recorded He’s A Rebel, which first became a hit in Australia.  That title was soon followed by the unforgettable release, It Must Be Him, which charged up the charts 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 movie Moonstruck.  After It Must Be Him came a string of hits 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. .

A legendary star of the stage and screen, Vikki Carr has captivated audiences nationally and abroad for over 50 years with her melodic voice and presence.  She is one of the best‑loved and most accomplished entertainers in the United States, Latin America, and Europe.  In her illustrious career she has garnered four Grammy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy and has released over 60 best‑selling recordings. She has performed for the Queen of England, five United States Presidents, wartime soldiers in Vietnam and sold‑out audiences around the world.  She has worked in radio, television, film and theater. Her music embraces four languages and she is among the first artists to bridge the cultures of the United States and Latin America, paving the way for many performers today.

In addition to her many album releases, Vikki Carr has appeared on stage and television. She has starred in productions of South Pacific, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on The Road.  In 2002 she starred in the Reprise production of Steven Sondheim’s beloved musical “Follies” in Los Angeles, garnering glowing reviews from the LA TimesHollywood Reporter, and Variety.  Two years later, Los Angeles PBS affiliate, KCET, filmed a special Vikki Carr: Memories, Memorias: a salute to the English‑language hits of the 1940s and 1950s originally composed by Latinos, and featuring guest appearances by Jack Jones, Pepe Aguilar and Arturo Sandoval.  PBS again tapped Vikki to host and star in a new production celebrating the music of Mexico, Fiesta Mexicana, which was featured on all PBS stations in 2008.

A frequent musical guest on major network variety shows, including Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, and Carol Burnett, Vikki also taped six specials for London Weekend TV.  As an actor, she appeared on the Bing Crosby Show, Mod Squad, Fantasy Island, Baywatch and many other shows. Vikki was the first female to regularly guest host for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.

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 named her among their three favorite female singers of all time.

Elvis Presley was also very fond of her and even remarked on stage in Las Vegas many times that Vikki Carr was one of his favorite singers and that he liked her because, “She sang from the gut,” and introduced her at many of his personal appearances in which she attended.

Vikki Carr has received many prestigious awards throughout her career.  In addition to the 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, these honors include the 2011 Medallion of Excellence given by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, 2009 Vietnam Veterans President’s Award, 2005 National Hispanic Media Coalition Impact Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003 Latino Spirit Award, 2003 Tito Guizar Award, 2002 Trefoil Award, 2000 Inductee, Latino Legends Hall of Fame, 1998 Imagen Foundation “Humanitarian Award, 1996 Hispanic Heritage Award, 1991 Girl Scouts of America Trefoil Award, 1990 City of Hope’s Founder of Hope Award, 1988 Nosotros Golden Eagle Award, 1984 Hispanic Woman of the Year, 1981 Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1974 Doctorate in Law from San Diego University and Doctorate in Fine Arts from St. Edwards University, 1972 American Guild of Variety Artist’s “Entertainer of the Year,” and the Los Angeles Times’ highly respected “Woman of the Year” for 1970. She has earned the career achievement award of the Association of Hispanic Critics, Chicago’s Ovation Award and the YWCA Silver Achievement Award.

As a humanitarian, Carr’s list of accomplishments is equally as impressive.  Her commitment to education and leadership development for Latino youth extends throughout her career, beyond the Latino community to many health-related charities, several which benefit children and families.  Serving for two years as chairperson of The American Lung Association, Carr was at the forefront of the anti-smoking campaign.  St. Jude, The American Heart Association and The National Breast Cancer Foundation are just a few of the many organizations Carr has supported.

Grammy nominated, Viva La Vida is Carr’s “thank you” to all Latin America and her fans here at home for all the love they have shown her throughout the years.  Continuing her efforts to unite people through her music, Carr invites her audience to truly “Viva La Vida” – Live Life and to live it abundantly.

With no slowing down in sight, Vikki welcomes the opportunity to continue to share her gift of music. I was introduced to Vikki Carr though her former Drummer Victor R. Barrientos a well-known respected musician, educator and studio musician. (You hit it hard on the one this time Homie)

She has always been an inspiration to me and millions around the world, especially Latinos. Her iconic status paved the way for such artists as Linda Ronstadt, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Selena, Selena Gomez and the list goes on.

She as a very kind and a very youthful happy voice she is funny laughs easily and sometimes during the course of our 90-minute conversation while making a statement, she would sing a few verses in English and Spanish, which left me breathless on the other side of the line. I am honored to know her now, another check mark off my bucket list, I give you my friend the legend Vikki Carr.

AC: When did you realize you had the gift of singing? How did your parents and family react? What kind of music did you listen to that inspired you?

VC: I have been singing since I was four years old, I sang silent night and Adestes Fidelies in Latin and my Mom made me an angel dress out of a sheet and tree timing tinsels became my belt. I looked out into the audience and saw my Mom crying, afterword I ran up to Mom and asked her what was wrong crying promising never to do that again, she said, No Honey I was so proud of you, and that’s when I knew had had something special.

AC: Tell us about your Dad

VC: My Father wanted to be a professional singer, he never took the opportunity although there was a woman who wanted to manage him. When he saw I had an interest in music he encouraged me. Because we were a very strict Mexican/American family I could never go out or do anything, at the age of 18 he let me go out on the road.  When I did go out, he would send my Grandmother with me as a Chaperone.

I started working all of the lounges of Nevada. It was an incredible experience doing 5 and 6 shows a night. Was working in gambling casinos and yes, I lied about my age. Everybody knew, and they all protected me. I learned allot, every week they would change the times of the shows, they would have 24 hour shows, when you are young you can do anything, this experience helped me perfect my craft regarding technique.

AC: Tell us a little about your singing technique, many have tried to emulate your style

VC: I never realized that I had such a big voice, but as I held the mike close, I could see people covering their ears, I pulled the Mike back a little. I am told that I have the best mike technique in the business, because I know how to work it, I tell the sound man once my mike is set don’t touch it LOL! I know what I’m doing!

AC: So, you learned this doing the casino shows? What else did you learn during those years?

VC: You learned how to focus on your singing no matter what is going one around you. For example, you could be singing they would turn off your mike and yell, “Jackpot!” You could be in the middle of a deeply emotional and gut wrenching song, they cut your mike a nasally voice would screech, “Jackpot on Machine number 35” We would be trying to perform early in the morning and the drunks were there who missed their bus, we would open the curtain and come out Da-da-da! Look out see only a few drunks there, we would close the curtain and come out all over again.

I was working people like Wayne Newton and other great performers learning the craft. It was a fun and wonderful time to be involved in the music scene.

AC: Tell us about your global hit, “It must be Him”

VC: At first, I could not perform it on TV because I said ‘God’ in it. The TV people said can’t you say, “Dear Lord?”  I said no, because we don’t talk that way. They did let me sing Can’t take my eyes of you and the line I thank God I’m alive, because it was upbeat and somewhat embedded in the song.

Once the song hit Number One in England it was re-released here in the states, I could then perform it, the rules that the FCC had at the time, was very strict, if you look at what they allow on TV now well……..

The biggest success I have had has come with the things I have fought for. This way you never have to look back and say, What if…

AC: You are such an emotional singer you often cry, why is that?

VC: People ask me why I make myself cry while singing I don’t, I was brought up to sing from the heart and ascribe meaning to what I’m saying. A PR guy from New You said, instead of explaining that you have been brought up to sing from you heart, just tell people, “You have and snake in your garter that bites you every time you hit a special note” LOL

Songs to me are like a Mini movie, I’m telling a story, I immerse myself in the emotion. I always get the tear-jerker songs! I remember doing Ed Sullivan show, poor Ed, when I was done doing a song, he came over he saw me crying and wanted to know if I was all right, he had his little handkerchief for me.

TV was great Jim Nabors show, Glen Campbell, both great guys (RIP) we have fun and real laughs, this is something missing from TV nowadays. That laughter we have nowadays are over things that are not really funny.

AC: How was the entertainment industry back then?

VC: It was wonderful, lots of good TV, Carol Burnett, Smother Brothers, Jimmy Dean, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, Hollywood Palace, Perry Como. When I did the Dean Martin show they told me just make sure you know your part because Dean will not come in a rehearse, he once said I was one of his favorite singers. They gave you an opportunity to be in sketches, comedy, acting, dancing helps the resume.

Once I was performing in a small venue, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra was there, Frank was in a bad mood because he had a broken arm. Frank looks right at me and says, “The Girl can sing!” I just smiled and said Thank you, He stood up and shouted and Said, “THIS GIRL CAN SING!!!” I went backstage and Dean Martin came in and said, I am so proud of you an Italian doing so great! I told him I was Mexican American, he said, “That’s OK you are Latin we will take you and gave me a big hug.”

I wanted to be a Dancer and Debbie Reynolds told me stick to singing.

I learned something from Jack Benny once, he has is hand on his cheek watching Bobby Vinton he looked confused, I asked Jack if there was a problem, he said “Don’t know if I should watch or listen”. What I learned was, do you want people to hear you song and your interpretation of do you want them to react to the movement?

I remember Bing Crosby who would vocalize all the time, I realized that a singer is an athlete who has to keep vocal cords in shape.

I’m in my 70s now and still perform while keeping my voice exercised and in shape. Can’t wear the five-inch heels anymore, LOL

AC: I’m told you were the first Female co-host of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? What was that like?

VC: Johnny was one of a kind a consummate professional. When they asked me to co host the show they asked me who I would like on the show with me. I had just come back from entertaining the troops in Vietnam, I went with Danny Kaye. I asked for Danny Kaye to guest with me, the producer Fred DeCordova said, they have asked Danny Kaye to be on the show since the beginning but always refused.

My manager told me I would have to ask him myself, no one thought he would never do it. I called Danny and told him, he said, is that what they said? He then said, well we will show them that blood is thicker than show business, it was a huge coo for me. The show was big, I had Nolan Ryan and Sergio Mendez on with me that night as well.

I remember the first time I went to host the show, I came out I had no monologue I sang a song, went over and sat in the guest chair, Ed McMahon leaned over and said “Vikki,” I said, “What?” He said, “Vikki you are the host!” I got quickly and said, “Oh Ok!”

AC: Didn’t President Ford call you at you house one time?

VC: I had done some work for the cancer society and met him, told him if he ever needed anything from me, I would be happy to help. One day I’m at my house my Dad and Mom where there, I get a phone call from my answering service saying that The President of The United Sates is on the phone, so I walked over to the phone and said, “What’s up?” My Dad almost went through the ceiling he could not believe it.

To make a long story short, he took me up on my offer to help out and perform for a Washington function for the Chancellor of Austria, they needed talent, so he told Betty that I had offered to help so Betty said to call me, and he did, I could hear her in the background.

I did the show, afterwards there was a dinner dance, I danced with him on one of those songs that seem to last forever, anyway after it was done, I told him if you are ever in Los Angeles come visit me, Mi Casa es Tu Casa, I can make some Mexican food, what is you favorite dish?

He said, “Vikki Carr!” The next thing there were headlines everywhere afterwards, “President Fords favorite Mexican Dish is Vikki Carr!”

I found there were only two people banned from the White House, myself and Raquel Welch. The worse was the response from my Mom who read the National Inquirer, she asked, what did you do at The White House? I told her the truth she was still skeptical, and I said, listen Mom if I was going to break up any marriage I as well start at the top, LOL

AC: You were one of the very first anti-smoking advocates?

VC: I spent much of my career working In Casinos and clubs, once I went to perform at The Riviera in Las Vegas and my voice was not there. I went to all of the specialists and found I was allergic to almost everything but especially cigarette smoke. I went though tests, they found that on a scale of 4, my allergy to Cigarette smoke was 4+.

After treatment I was OK but had to go back and finish my commitment to the Rivera, I asked if they could put some signs up for people in the front rows to refrain from smoking the casinos owners said no, my gamblers are more important that the talent. I was just meat that they bought.

My manager told me if you want them to stop smoking you must ask them. I went out and told the audience what happen and if they could not smoke for 45 minutes, for my voice my life and ultimately theirs.

There was tumultuous applause because half the audience did not smoke. By the end of the show the room was clear, news media came to film what had happened. Phil Harrah was the first anywhere to include no smoking sections.

I started taking a stand and became the Chairman of The American lung association. Every time you see a no smoking sign remember the kid who started it in 1974.

Sometimes you believe in what you fight for, when you realize that something someone else is doing is hurting you, then, you must do something about it.

AC: What keeps you busy?

VC: I still perform on occasion but for the last few years have been taking care of my Husband who has some health issues I help as a caretaker. I plan on soon traveling around the country to talk to people about how necessary it is to have caretakers and how we can support them.

Last month I was honored: Vikki Carr Announced as a 2018 Texas Women’s Hall Of Fame Honoree

Like I told you at the beginning of the interview I listen to my music often that is where you can find me anytime you like…

AC: How can people find out more about you and keep abreast of your latest endeavors?

http://vikkicarr.com/

AC: Te Amo Miss Vikki.


Comments
Lidia Pires November 19, 2018

Wonderful interview AC. Nice to know more about her.

jes. November 19, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving Lidia!

Vito P Cifaldi November 19, 2018

Fabulous interview with Superstar Vikki Carr.

I invite Vikki Carr fans to read more about Vikki on http://www.VikkiCarr.com and http://www.VikkiCarr.net

Looking forward to going to a concert in 2019, she’s still one of the best singers in the business!

Thank you for your awesome interview!

Mike Chinea November 20, 2018

Fabulous interview. Thank you!!

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