one of the most popular easy-listening acts of the 1970s. membership:Karen Carpenter, voc, drm. (b. New Haven, Conn., March 2, 1950; d. Downey, Calif., Feb. 4, 1983); Richard Carpenter, kybd., voc. (b. New Haven, Conn., Oct. 15, 1946).
The Carpenters scored an impressive string of hits with the compositions of songwriters such as Burt Bacharach, Paul Williams, Leon Russell, Carole King, and Neil Sedaka. Featuring the full, resonant, yet spiritless alto voice of Karen Carpenter and the delicate harmony of brother Richard, the duo ultimately had more Top 20 singles than even the Everly Brothers and sold more than 80 million records. A longtime sufferer of anorexia nervosa, Karen died in 1983 at age 32 of heart failure due to the condition.
Karen and Richard Carpenter moved with their family to Downey, Calif., in 1963. Richard began playing piano at age nine and completed his musical education at Calif. State Univ., Long Beach, whereas Karen took up drums while in high school. They formed the Carpenter Trio with bassist Wes Jacobs in 1965, winning a Battle of the Bands contest at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966. Although signed to RCA Records, no recordings were ever released, and the trio disbanded.
By the late 1960s Karen and Richard had formed a duo to pursue their interest in vocal harmonies and were signed to A&M Records by Herb Alpert on the strength of a demonstration tape. Their first hit came in 1970, with Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You.” Subsequent early-1970s hits included “For All We Know” two Paul Williams-Roger Nichols compositions, “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s “Superstar.” A Song for You provided six hits: “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” “Hurting Each Other,” Carole King’s “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” “Goodbye to Love,” “Top of the World,” and the Williams-Nichols composition “I Won’t Last a Day without You.” Other major hits through 1976 were “Sing,” “Yesterday Once More,” “Only Yesterday,” Neil Sedaka’s “Solitaire,” and “I Need to Be in Love.” Although the Carpenters’ popularity waned in the late 1970s, they managed a major hit in 1981 with “Touch Me When We’re Dancing.”
While working on Voice of the Heart, Karen Carpenter died at her parents’ Downey home of heart failure due to anorexia nervosa on Feb. 4, 1983, at age 32. The Karen Carpenter Memorial Foundation was formed to aid in the research of anorexia, and a music scholarship fund in her name was established at Calif. State Univ., Long Beach. Richard worked as a staff producer at A&M. The 1988 made-for-TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story portrayed her life and death. The posthumusly released album Lovelines contained 10 previously unreleased songs, including four by Karen from a never-completed solo album. In 1994 A&M issued a Carpenters tribute album, with their songs being covered by contemporary acts such as Sonic Youth, the Cranberries, Sheryl Crow, Matthew Sweet, and Babes in Toyland.
the carpenters:Ticket to Ride (1969); Close to You (1970); The C. (1971); A Song for You (1972); Now and Then (1973); The Singles: 1969–1973 (1973); Horizon (1975); A Kind of Hush (1976); Passage (1977); A Christmas Portrait (1978); Made in America (1981); Voice of the Heart (1983); An Old-Fashioned Christmas (1985); Yesterday Once More (1985); Lovelines (1989); From the Top: The Ultimate Retrospective (1991). tribute album:If I Were a Carpenter (1994).
Ray Coleman, The C: The Untold Story (N.Y., 1994).