When I was a gullible little girl of about 7 or 8, my three older brothers would tell me that there were hundreds of people singing background in those songs we were listening to, and that’s why they sounded that way. I smile today because I totally believed my brothers. Sure, an occasional backup singer was used, but in actuality it was Karen and Richard Carpenter singing all those great songs. The magic sound was created by her producer-brother Richard, who also helped to write many of the songs they sung.
And Karen Carpenter had the saddest voice ever. She would have been 65 this past March 2. When I listen to her songs, especially hits like Rainy Days and Mondays, Say Goodbye to Love, For All We Know, and Solitaire, I still marvel at her beautiful voice and the sadness it evokes.
Karen Carpenter was an outstanding singer, but few people know that she was also an exceptional drummer. And by all accounts, she had a kooky sense of humor and a host of friends, not to mention fans, whom she touched during her short life. (She died of heart failure at age 32 on February 4, 1983.) Her voice graced at least a dozen albums, and she, together with her brother Richard, won two Grammy Awards and earned millions of dollars during a time when their squeaky clean image was the antithesis of what was considered “cool” or even “popular music.”
According to The Carpenters: The Untold Story, an Authorized Biography by Ray Coleman, Karen was “hiding” by playing behind the drums while singing in the early days of the act. It then became apparent that her powerhouse voice demanded that she be the star on stage, front and center. (We have a few music CDs by the Carpenters at DCPL, including the album Singles 1969-1981.)
This YouTube clip shows Karen in a variety of early performances behind her drums.
Unfortunately, though, Karen Carpenter will be remembered first and foremost for her death and the introduction it gave the world to a disease called anorexia nervosa. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. Other eating disorders include bulimia nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
But for me, when I hear the Carpenters’ music, I think iconic 70’s music–just begging for me to sing along.