Karen Carpenter

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Karen Carpenter
Karen Carpenter, early 1970s
Karen Carpenter, early 1970s
Background information
Also known asThe Carpenters
Born(1950-03-02)March 2, 1950
New Haven, Connecticut, United States
OriginDowney, California
DiedFebruary 4, 1983(1983-02-04) (aged 32)
Downey, California, United States
GenresPop, jazz
InstrumentsDrums, singer
Years active1969-1983
LabelsA&M Records
WebsiteRichard and Karen Carpenter official website

Karen Anne Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) was an American singer and drummer who was most popular in the 70s. She is known as the singer of the group the Carpenters.

Karen had anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder of extreme weight loss dieting. This was a little-known illness at the time. Although she had begun recovery with a doctor-supervised program and regained 30 lbs (14 kg), permanent damage to her body had been sustained from the years of extreme weight-loss dieting and she died at the age of 32. The cause of her death was heart failure, from complications related to her illness which caused her to believe mistakenly that she needed to lose weight.[1]

Early life[change | change source]

Karen Carpenter was born at Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut on March 2, 1950 to Agnes Reuwer Tatum and Harold Bertram Carpenter.[2] She played baseball a lot, and said that she liked being the pitcher.[3] She had a brother, named Richard Carpenter. While Karen played baseball with her friends, Richard usually played the piano. Her parents, Agnes and Harold Carpenter, decided that they wanted to move to Downey, California, a city near Hollywood. They moved in 1963.

In Downey, Karen attended Downey High School. She was a good student, but did not like gym. In order to get out of gym, she asked to be in the marching band instead. When she got into the marching band, the director gave her the glockenspiel, an instrument that sounds somewhat like a xylophone. Karen did not like the glockenspiel and asked her band director if she could play the drums instead. Seeing Karen's natural talent for rhythm, the director approved. From then on, she practiced drumming on pots and pans before her parents finally bought her a drum set.[4]

Her brother formed the Richard Carpenter Trio in 1965. Karen played the drums. Richard played the piano, and a friend named Wes Jacobs played the electric bass. They played jazz music at clubs in Hollywood. They entered the Battle of the Bands contest at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966. The Richard Carpenter Trio played "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Iced Tea," a song composed by Richard Carpenter. They won the Battle of the Bands that year. Afterwards, they signed with RCA Records, but the RCA thought their music would not sell, so RCA let them go. The Richard Carpenter Trio made one last TV appearance on "Your All American College Show" in 1968, where they played "Dancing in the Street." Karen had a great drum solo. They won the "Your All American College Show" contest, too.

In 1967, Richard and Karen formed another group called Spectrum. Spectrum focused on making big harmonies, and the public did not like their music. Both the Richard Carpenter Trio and Spectrum disbanded in 1968.

Career[change | change source]

After five years of going nowhere, Richard and Karen Carpenter wanted to sign with a record label, but were constantly rejected. Joe Osborn, a bass player, had recording studio and let Richard and Karen record demo tapes. They sent in those demo tapes to a man named Herb Alpert. Herb Alpert appreciated Richard and Karen's music, and agreed to sign the two to his record label, A&M Records.

In April 1969, Richard and Karen Carpenter signed to A&M Records as "Carpenters." They released their first album that year as well. It was called "Offering." It did not have any popular songs on there, except for a song called "Ticket to Ride." When they released it as a single, the public's reaction was somewhat less than great. Too many people were accustomed to the Beatles' version.

The next year, Herb Alpert recommended a song called "(They Long to Be) Close to You." After being given the music, Richard Carpenter worked on arranging it to invent their own sound. This song was their first major hit. It went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Later that year, the Carpenters recorded another song, called "We've Only Just Begun." It was originally for a commercial for a bank called "Crocker Bank", but Richard saw potential in it. He again began working on the arrangement and the song was released. Ultimately, "We've Only Just Begun" released it as a single, went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Throughout their career, Karen and Richard continued to be successful and release great singles. All of them placed in the top 20 until 1977. In 1977, both singles released only peaked at #32 and #35. Their last top 20 released in 1981 "Touch Me When We're Dancing" peaked at #16. This was seen as a successful "come back" for the Carpenters however Karen would pass away just two years later.

Karen also recorded her first and only solo album entitled "Karen Carpenter" in 1979-1980 while her brother Richard took time off to recover from an addiction to prescription sleeping pills. The album was not released during Karen's lifetime and would remain the A&M vaults until 1996 when Richard Carpenter finally felt the time was right to release it. Karen dedicated her solo to her brother "Dedicated to my brother Richard... With all my heart..." Karen's fans have had a mixed reaction to her solo album but the majority believe the album was strong enough to be released at the time that it was recorded and would have had few strong hits for the singer. However Karen choose to shelve the album after it was negatively received by the powers that be at A&M Records and her brother.

Records[change | change source]

With the Carpenters, Karen Carpenter had a lot of records. Here is a list of them. The italicized words are the names of the records, and the things in the (parentheses) are the years that the records were released.

  • Ticket to Ride (1969)
  • Close to You (1970)
  • Carpenters (1971)
  • A Song for You (1972)
  • Now & Then (1973)
  • The Singles: 1969-1973 (1974)
  • Horizon (1975)
  • A Kind of Hush (1976)
  • Passage (1977)
  • Made in America (1981)
  • Voice of the Heart (1983 - after Karen's death)

References[change | change source]

  1. VH1, Behind the Music: Carpenters (1998).
  2. Coleman, Ray. The Carpenters: The Untold Story (HarperCollins, 1994), pp. 29-33.
  3. This Is Your Life (TV Show with Ralph Edwards)
  4. Randy L. Schmidt, Dionne Warwick Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter p. 127

Other websites[change | change source]