Consummate performer Vikki Carr, who recently celebrated her 50th anniversary in show business, has led a storied life that has included entertaining for many prominent figures, including Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and three other U.S. presidents. In addition to her charitable work with United Way, the American Lung Association and other agencies, Carr has earned a slew of accolades, including the 2008 Latin Grammys Lifetime Achievement Award.
Carr, born Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona in El Paso, Texas, in 1941, got her first taste of fame belting out “Adeste Fidelis” at a Christmas concert in 1944. By 1961, she was signed with Liberty Records, scoring a hit in Australia with “He’s a Rebel,” which Phil Spector later repurposed for his girl group the Crystals. Their version reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts.
It wasn’t until 1967 that Carr had her own breakthrough chart success with her album, “It Must Be Him,” which was nominated for three Grammys. By the late ’60s, Carr’s career was set with a couple more hits, “The Lesson” and “With Pen in Hand,” and a stamp of approval from crooner Dean Martin, who called her “the best girl singer in the business.” In 1970, The Times named her “Woman of the Year.”
Her success in TV has been equally compelling. In addition to appearing on multiple network variety shows and on “Mod Squad” and “Fantasy Island,” she was the first woman to guest-host for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
While Carr’s U.S. sales dwindled in the ’70s, the Mexican American artist’s crossover appeal stemmed to several Spanish-language albums, mostly released in the ’80s and ’90s. She won a Grammy award for her 1991 album, “Cosas Del Amor,” which also yielded a duet hit with Ana Gabriel. In 2006, she toured the U.S., Mexico and the Dominican Republic and in 2008, she hosted the PBS special “Fiesta Mexicana.”