Sandringham’s superstar

New Zealand born and raised, Ricci Carr has worked in the entertainment industry for more than 50 years, in over 25 countries.

Renowned in her town as a child for gathering up the neighbourhood kids and creating intricate concerts to perform for parents, music would later take Ricci to some wild and wonderful places. Ricci learned piano under the tutelage of esteemed New Zealand opera soprano Dame Malvina Major, who introduced Ricci to jazz music, which proved to be the catalyst for a sparkling career to come.

Aged 19 and on a break from nursing at New Zealand’s Waikato Hospital, Ricci was in Sydney visiting family when they went to dine at the local RSL. The venue’s musical act was having a break when Ricci’s sister suggested that she step up to the microphone.

Though nervous, she got up and did her best to sing with the pianist’s wonky efforts, noticing the large number of empty beer glasses atop the piano. Ricci’s sister encouraged her to try again, this time playing the piano.

“As I played the last notes and lifted my hands from the piano, the roar of the audience almost brought the house down!”

Around this time, Ricci sang loudly and proudly in the shower, and one day a neighbourhood parent asked Ricci to teach their children.

“I had no experience teaching – he said, ‘just teach them to do what you do!’” Ricci laughed.

Luckily, her talents in teaching were as extensive as her musical prowess. As a musician, Ricci was represented by several agents, with one encouraging her to attend an audition in Sydney’s Kings Cross. There, Ricci was horrified to see some 300 other hopefuls in line for the same gig.

“Somehow, I got the job,” Ricci says humbly. “I was about 20 years old the first time I performed for the troops in Vietnam in 1967.”

Singing with big bands for American troops during the Vietnam War, Ricci has vivid memories of the time. In a demilitarised zone of Dong Ha, Vietnam, Ricci and her colleagues were waiting to be flown out as tensions in the region escalated. With mortars coming and going from their position, their regular aircraft, a Fairchild C-123 Provider, was unable to take off.

Instead, the group was ushered into a Bell UH-1 helicopter where they flew less than 20 feet above the Cua Viet River. They sustained enemy fire, and upon landing safely, it became apparent just how close their demise really came. Two AK-47 bullets had ripped gaping holes into the helicopter, missing the fuel tanks by mere centimetres. Amazingly, Ricci returned for a further two years in a row in 1968 and 1969.

Aside from New Zealand and Vietnam, Ricci has worked in Denmark, the United States, Hong Kong, Fiji, and Japan, and many others. Reminiscing on her time overseas, Ricci recalls one of her most fond memories.

“I was in Osaka, Japan with my two girls, Bridget and Michelle – they were only three and four,” she explained. “The girls snuck on stage and sang a song called ‘Me Too’. The bandmaster’s teenage son played with them and the audio man caught it all on a cassette.”

In 2017, Ricci moved to Melbourne for a new endeavour. Unsatisfied with being just a singer, teacher, actor, mother, nurse, and producer, she opted to work with an editor and add ‘author’ to her repertoire. ‘I Can Sing! But Where Is My Voice?’ is a guide to modern singing and part of Ricci’s legacy – the amalgamation of 50 years of teachings, wisdom, and advice.

Ricci looks back on her career and to where she is now – from meeting Rod Stewart and dancing with the late King Frederik IX of Denmark to losing much of her family and experiencing a devastating financial loss, Ricci found herself living in a shelter among Melbourne’s over 55s female homeless population.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ve been learning lots of life lessons,” Ricci said. Ricci credits her social worker with referring her to mecwacare, waiting mere weeks before accepting an apartment in mecwacare’s affordable housing site in Sandringham. She has now called this place home for two years, and though she finds living alone difficult, Ricci is by no means ungrateful.

“I love living where I am,” she smiled. “The light in the apartment, the sea breeze, it’s wonderful, especially for writing and recording my songs!”

Having experienced homelessness and crises herself, Ricci gives back to the community by volunteering, whether it’s cooking delicious meals or singing for vulnerable people. Ricci knows both the good and bad in the world, and has come to a firm conclusion.

“We need to look after those around us while we’re here,” she stated.

As an organisation, mecwacare is deeply honoured and profoundly proud to call residents such as Ricci our own.

Listen to Ricci’s music, “Time for Life” on YouTube.

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