Ricci de Forest (pronounced REE–see), also known professionally as Ricci International (the "Acoustical Dandy"), is a hair stylist, beauty educator, and proprietor of the Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Shoppe and WERDStudio museum.
Ricci hails from Cleveland, Ohio, where he was raised in the foster care system from age 5 through 12. One day, one of Ricci's elementary school teachers noticed his creative capabilities and remarked, "Ricky [as he was known at the time], you're going to be another Mr. John." Ricci, unaware of who Mr. John was, researched the name and discovered Mr. John to be a renowned milliner. As reported in Mr. John's New York Times obituary, "in the 1940s and 1950s, the name Mr. John was as famous in the world of hats as Christian Dior was in the realm of haute couture."
Ricci began exploring other design innovators and fell in love with fashion. A girlfriend at the time submitted his name to a design school in Los Angles and soon Ricci found himself in the City of Angels studying fashion. But there was tuition to pay. When he ventured into a local department store, he watched a make-up artist there and thought to himself, "I can do that!" He put together a resume and was hired by Bullock's, a luxury department store on Wilshire Boulevard. Two weeks later, Ricci left design school and became a full-time make-up artist. He leveraged that experience into work for Fashion Fair that landed him in New York City.
These times were a whirlwind of cross-country travel and magazine covers. Ricci found his home in Atlanta but his employer there decided all those personal trips were not consistent with his local employment; he came back from a tour to find his equipment in a chair -- he had been fired. Undaunted, Ricci started his own shop called "Ricci International."
Years later, while cruising the streets of Atlanta, Ricci turned onto Hilliard Street and, out of the corner of his eye, spied a retail space with "Mme. C. J. Walker's Beauty Shoppe" on the window. He hit the brakes and soon afterwards found himself as the occupant of this personally and historically important space. To his surprise, he discovered several beauty tools associated with Madam C.J. Walker were left behind. Thus began Ricci's mission to create a sanctuary for the legacy of the beauty industry in his shop.
Two years later, a woman stuck her head into the shop and said, "Mr. Ricci, do you know the first black radio station in America was upstairs over your beauty shop?" Ricci was stunned by the revelation. Research into that station, WERD radio, confirmed the station's studios had been in a nearby location, as well as confirming the station's critical contributions to black music, black businesses, and civil rights.
Since then, Ricci has dedicated himself to preserving and honoring the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker and WERD by creating the Madam Museum in his beauty shop.
"The wholeness of the living is diminished
when the ancestors are not honored."
More About the Museum and Its History
Various media have shown interest in the historical significance of Atlanta's Madam Museum and WERD radio. Here are links to several examples:
Madam C.J. Walker, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Social Activist, as told by her second great-granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles
Netflix will have a mini-series about Madam C.J. Walker in 2020
The memory of Madam C.J. Walker lives on (Saporta Report)
Beauty and Struggle, a documentary by Zach Wolfe, "The Bitter Southerner"
WERD Radio & Ricci de Forest: The History of Sweet Auburn Avenue
Documentary: "Alley Pat: the Music is Recorded"
Michael Cornell's story: Atlanta's WERD
CNN: America's first black-owned radio station