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Singing detective’s cause leads her to Fenway

Pauline Carter-Wells sang the national anthem June 19 at Fenway Park. Pauline Carter-Wells sang the national anthem June 19 at Fenway Park. (Andrew Millett)
By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / July 11, 2010

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MILTON — When Pauline Carter-Wells first started singing, she was so nervous she’d make her listeners turn around. She still gets stage fright, but she can look at her audience head-on now — even when they fill Fenway Park.

And no one but her husband — Milton Police Chief Richard Wells — could tell she had the jitters last month when she belted out the national anthem to a sold-out Red Sox crowd.

“Lucky for me, they asked me to come in for a sound check at 11 a.m. — it really took the edge off for me to sing to an empty Fenway Park,’’ she said.

It was her husband who got Carter-Wells into singing, a “part-time’’ job that takes her away from her full-time gig as a sergeant detective in Cambridge’s major crime unit, in charge of domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

“It started when we got married on July 4th, 1998,’’ she said. “According to my husband, we were dancing to our wedding song — ‘The Summer Wind’ — and I was singing in his ear. He thought my voice sounded pretty good, so he bought me singing lessons.’’

They’d met in 1993 when he was her firearms instructor at the Police Academy. They didn’t start dating for another three years, when they met again at an Irish music festival.

Richard Wells isn’t a singer, but he plays the bass drum with the Gaelic Column, a bagpipe and drum corps affiliated with the Boston Police Department. It was on a visit to Ireland with the group that Carter-Wells first sang in public — at a pub in Cork.

It was through her husband, again, that she started singing with Devri, an Irish music group based on the South Shore. Richard Wells had booked the group to play at Doyle’s in Jamaica Plain, at a party for the New York Police Department’s pipes and drums band, who were in Boston for the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“One of the police officers came up and asked if we would let a lady get up to sing,’’ said Declan Houton of Braintree, Devri’s mandolin player and a Donegal native. “As soon as Pauline started singing, I knew she wasn’t just another singer. She had a beautiful voice, but there was just something about her. She’s an attractive, tall lady, but very honest and unassuming.’’

Carter-Wells, a contralto, sings with Devri at Irish bars like Mr. Dooley’s in Boston, and at charity events — including an upcoming Veteran’s Day salute at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston.

In fact, she donates all the proceeds from her singing to charity and has given more than $50,000 to the Jimmy Fund, Cops for Kids with Cancer, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and the Leukemia Society, her husband said proudly.

Both of Carter-Wells’s parents died of cancer, and for the last five years she’s been riding in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the cross-state bike ride that raises millions each summer for cancer research and care. (Richard Wells volunteers in the ride’s command center.) To raise her share, Carter-Wells holds a benefit concert, “A Celtic Crossing,’’ every year in her hometown at Milton High School.

The Red Sox sponsor a Pan-Mass. Challenge team — this year’s captain is Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino’s wife, Stacey — and June 19 was PMC Day at Fenway. That’s how Carter-Wells wound up singing “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ there, before the Dodgers and Red Sox took the field in a game that ended with a Boston victory.

She’s sung the anthem hundreds of times — at police academy graduations, numerous 9/11 memorials, and before 5,000 chiefs at an International Chiefs of Police Convention. But she still was nervous.

“The national anthem is a hard song to sing,’’ she said. “To be in your comfort level, you have to be able to start at the right note. I knew I started on the right note, and that made me relax. I must say it came out awesome, and the place was going just mental. My daughter [6-year-old Molly] was there. It was very cool, I have to say.

“The good thing about the national anthem is it’s always first, and you get it over with.’’

Carter-Wells and Devri will sing at the Milton Town Hall Gazebo Aug. 3 at 6 p.m., as part of the town’s summer concert series. More information about Carter-Wells and her CD “Pauline Wells: Ready to Play’’ is available at paulinewells.com. The band’s website is devriband.com.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seelenfam@verizon.net.

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