He was born in San Bruno, California, the son of Italian immigrants who first named him Woodrow Wilson Rich. His brother was cellist George Ricci (1923–2010), originally named George Washington Rich . His sister Emma played violin with the New York Metropolitan Opera. His father first taught him to play the violin. At age seven, Ricci studied with Louis Persinger and Elizabeth Lackey. Persinger would become his piano accompanist for many recitals and recordings.
In the 1930s Ricci studied in Berlin with Georg Kulenkampff, where he learned a "German style" of playing in the tradition of Adolf Busch. He also studied with Michel Piastro and Paul Stassevich.
He served in the US Army from 1942 until 1945, where he was an "entertainment specialist".
In 1947, Ricci was the first violinist to record the complete 24 Caprices, Op. 1, by Paganini, in their original form.[N 1] Ricci's first recording was on the Decca recording label. After his time in the military, he uncovered many pieces by 19th-century composers that he would perform solo. He also performed the world premieres of pieces by many contemporary composers, including the violin concertos by Gottfried von Einem, Carlos Veerhoff and Alberto Ginastera.
Ricci owned many precious instruments, including the Guarneri Del Gesù violin known as the ex-Bronisław Huberman of 1734, a Storioni, a Luiz Bellini, a Curtin & Alf, a David Bague and a couple of Regazzi. He played, on September 18, 1997, his fourth recording of the Paganini Caprices on Paganini's own Guarneri, Il Cannone, on loan to him by the City of Genoa, Italy.
On 6 August 2012, Ruggiero Ricci died of heart failure at his home in Palm Springs, California, aged 94.
With the aim of showcasing great masterpieces of violin concerto repertoire, Ricci, accompanied by members of the American Symphony Orchestra, performed 15 concertos over a series of four concerts at Lincoln Center's Philharmic Hall, all in a span of 30 days, under a different conductor each time.
1973 | LP | Vox Turnabout TV-S 34528 | + premiere recording of Caprice d'adieu in E major, MS 68 (USA, 1973)
1978 | 2LP | Price-Less C–93042 (CD reprint: Price-Less D12179) | "Golden Jubilee" – recorded direct-to-disc at Soundstage Recording Studio, Toronto, Canada | + Caprice d'adieu in E major, MS 68 + Duo merveille in C major, MS 6 (Toronto, 1978)
1988 | CD | Radio Vaticana 061–003 / Biddulph LAW 016 | performed on Paganini's Guarneri del Gesù "Il Cannone" (Genova, 16–20 April 1988)
1998 | CD | Dynamic CDS244 | 80th Birthday Concert, live in Szeged Synagogue, Hungary | version for violin and orchestra by Laszlo Meszlény (Nos.1–23) and Chris Nicholls (No.24), based on the piano accompaniment composed by Robert Schumann (Hungary, 17 May 1998)
1982 | LaserDisc-NTSC | One Eleven, Ltd. URS-V-91610 | 69 mins. | BBC Scotland, Live television performance (p)1991
1987 | VHS-NTSC | Shar Products Company RR–1 (Michigan University, 10 January 1987) | unedited performance
^The first recording of any version was that of the arrangement by Ferdinand David for violin and piano, made in 1940 by the Austrian-born Ossy Renardy.