Who was Karen Carpenter?
Karen Carpenter was a famous American singer. She was part of the popular soft rock band ‘The Carpenters.’ Along with her brother Richard Carpenter, she had formed the band, which became very successful for its soothing music in the 1970s. Not only was she a fantastic singer, Karen was also the drummer of their band, attracting much praise from contemporary musicians. Karen, a contralto vocalist, had a critically acclaimed music career. ‘The Carpenters’ started embarking on tours and live performances in the late-1960s, but their commercial success and fame came in the 1970s. In the initial stages of her career, Karen used to be more of a drummer, but later took up the role of the lead vocalist. Owing to her rising popularity as a singer, her drumming became restricted to live performances only. Karen suffered from an eating disorder, which was not very common at that time. She eventually died of heart failure, brought about by her eating disorder.
Childhood & Early Life
Karen Anne Carpenter was born on March 2, 1950, in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, to Harold Bertram Carpenter and Agnes Reuwer. She moved to Downey, California with her family at the age of 13. She did her schooling in England. When she was four, Karen was enrolled in tap dancing and ballet classes.
During her high school days, she developed an interest in drumming and started playing the instrument. Interestingly, Karen chose music just to avoid early morning gym sessions!
She joined the school band at ‘Downey High School’ in 1964. She was given a chance to play the glockenspiel by Bruce Gifford, her conductor. But she didn’t like playing glockenspiel and later took up drumming after getting inspired by her friend Frankie Chavez’s drumming skills.
She convinced her parents into buying her a $300 ‘Ludwig’ drum set and started receiving training from Frankie Chavez. Being a quick learner, she picked up the art of drumming in no time and was able to play some very difficult time signatures like the 5/4 in Dave Brubeck's ‘Take Five.’
After her graduation in 1967, she enrolled at the ‘California State University,’ Long Beach. There, she performed for the college choir along with her brother Richard Carpenter. Impressed by her voice, Frank Pooler, the choir's director, gave her lessons in singing and helped her develop a three-octave range.
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Karen Carpenter started working in the printing business after college, but soon started focusing on music. She then formed a band along with her brother Richard and their friend Wes Jacobs. The trio won the ‘battle of the bands’ at the ‘Hollywood Bowl’ in 1966. As a result, the trio landed a contract with ‘RCA Records.’ Unfortunately, ‘RCA Records’ scrapped the deal as they didn’t believe in their genre, jazz tuba.
Later, the Carpenter siblings formed another band with four other students from ‘California State University.’ Together they did many gigs, but their band was eventually disbanded.
Finally in 1969, Karen and her brother Richard made several music tapes and tried demonstrating them to various music companies. They were finally offered a record deal by ‘A&M Records.’ Over the ensuing years, they came up with several hit albums like ‘Close to You’ (1970), ‘A Song for You’ (1972), ‘Now & Then’ (1973), ‘Horizon’ (1975), ‘A Kind of Hush’ (1976), ‘Passage’ (1977), ‘Christmas Portrait’ (1978), and ‘Made in America’ (1981).
Her posthumous albums were ‘Voice of the Heart’ (1983), ‘An Old-Fashioned Christmas’ (1984), ‘Lovelines’ (1989), and ‘As Time Goes By’ (2001/2004).
The most notable part of Karen Carpenter’s career was her collaboration with her brother Richard. Together they were called ‘The Carpenters.’ Initially, they took up many projects with different band members. In 1969, they formed a team of their own and were offered a recording contract by ‘A&M Records.’ Karen did most of the singing for their first album, while Richard wrote most of the songs.
She played drums as well as the bass guitar for two of their songs, ‘All of My Life’ and ‘Eve,’ from their first album. Their cover of Beatles’ ‘All I Can Do’ was their first single and it reached number 54 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100.’
Their next album ‘Close to You’ contained two major hits, namely ‘Close to You’ and ‘We've Only Just Begun.’ These two hits occupied the top two spots on ‘Billboard Hot 100.’
Awards & Achievements
Karen Carpenter is ranked #29 on VH1's ‘100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll.’ Shortly after her death, ‘The Carpenters’ was awarded a star on ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’
In 2010, she was ranked 94th in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Singers of All Time’ list.
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She was honored with three ‘Grammy Awards’ along with her brother.
Karen Carpenter married real estate developer Thomas J. Burris in 1980, but the marriage didn’t last long. She died the day they were supposed to sign the divorce papers.
Her singing skills brought her praise from many musicians, including Paul McCartney. According to Paul, Karen was “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.”
Many singers were influenced by her. They include Sheryl Crow, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, Shania Twain, K.D. Lang, and Madonna.
Illness & Death
During her younger days, Karen Carpenter suffered from an eating disorder called ‘anorexia nervosa.’ This forced her to cancel some of her tours. This disease, which was quite uncommon in those days, turned out to be fatal
She died on February 4, 1983, at the age of 32, from heart failure caused by her illness. Her death created a great deal of awareness about the eating disorder, which benefitted many in the future. There were also rumors that claimed that she died of drug overdose. An autopsy report released on March 11, 1983, confirmed that she did not die of drug overdose.
Karen’s death is ranked 30th in E! network’s ‘101 Most Shocking Moments In Entertainment History.’
She performed at the White House in 1972 for Richard Nixon.
She loved playing softball.