Karen Carpenter Biography

Karen Anne Carpenter was born at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, March 2, 1950 to Harold Bertram (b. 11/8/08, d. 10/15/88) and Agnes Reuwer (Tatum) Carpenter (b. 3/5/15, d. 11-10-96), of New Haven, Connecticut.

Dad Carpenter hung swings in the basement of their home at 55 Hall Street in New Haven, and Karen and Richard spent many hours literally swinging to the music of their father's extensive record collection.

It was in that basement that the Carpenter siblings first heard the sounds of Les Paul and Mary Ford, Spike Jones, and Patti Page -- all figures that played a huge role in the development of the Carpenters' sound, nearly 20 years later. Initially, it was Richard who took an interest in music.

>Karen recalls: "While Richard was listening to music in the basement, I was out playing baseball and football, and playing with my machine gun! I was very tomboyish, quite a character, I hear! I remember I wanted to be a commercial artist, or a nurse, or an airline stewardess!" She laughed recalling these early ambitions, saying, "One, I can't stand the sight of blood; two, if I fly one more mile...!"

Karen, watching Richard's talents exploding, tried her hand at music as well back in New Haven, and began practicing the flute while attending Nathan Hale School, just around the corner from Hall Street. The lessons went nowhere and she continued watching her brother and his talents in awe.

The Carpenter family moved from their New Haven home to suburban Downey, California in June 1963. Harold Carpenter hated the frozen winters in Connecticut and had been yearning for sunny southern California since the mid-1950s. Not to mention Richard's musical abilities could pay off in the L.A. area. Hollywood and such surroundings would surely aid in establishing the career in music he dreamed of. After the Hall Street house sold back east, the Carpenter family bought a house at 13024 Fidler Avenue on Downey's south side.

While K.C. loved sports and other outdoor activities, she hated Gym class at Downey High. With Richard's help, she was allowed to substitute Band for Gym, and ultimately joined the school's choir to avoid Geometry. In the Downey Band, Karen marched in the drum line with her glockenspiel. She soon became fond of the drums around her and finally asked her parents for a drum set.

A fellow drummer in the Downey Band, Frankie Chavez, helped K.C. with the rudiments of drumming and she was soon showing off on her own set of Ludwigs. "Boy, could she play 'em!" exclaims Richard. Agnes Carpenter reportedly had to keep a stock of band-aids for her daughter's ailing, overworked fingers!

"Luckily, drumming came naturally," Karen said in a 1981 interview. "I started right off playin', and time signatures came naturally... I don't know how, I mean, it felt so comfortable when I picked up a pair of sticks!"

The Richard Carpenter Trio

With Karen still in high school, her seventeen year-old brother Richard entered California State University as a music major in the fall of 1964. He soon became buddies with a tuba and bass player named Wes Jacobs, who joined Richard and his drum-playing sister to form the Richard Carpenter Trio. Growing accustomed to playing for dances and weddings, the trio reached the finals of the prestigious talent contest "The Battle of the Bands" at the Hollywood Bowl. Playing Richard's "Iced Tea" along with "The Girl From Ipanema," Richard, Karen, and Wes took top honors and were soon approached by an RCA Records representative. The trio was signed to the label and cut 11 tracks, but the deal was soon dissolved with no commercial release.

Magic Lamp Records

On May 13, 1966, Karen, just discovering her vocal capabilities, was signed to Magic Lamp Records, a small, independent label. The label was owned by Joe Osborn, a well-known session bassist in the L.A. area. It was in Osborn's garage studio that Karen recorded "Looking for Love," "I'll Be Yours," "The Parting of Our Ways," and one other. Karen was drummer, of course, while Richard played keyboards and Joe played bass. A lone single was released in the summer or 1966. With a pressing of 500 records, a lack of distribution is credited for the unsuccessful release. That Magic Lamp 45RPM is today reportedly worth $500-$1,000!

The Carpenters

After two vocal groups (Summerchimes and Spectrum) folded, Karen and Richard went duo and decided to record all the vocals themselves, employing the multi-track overdubbing process. A demo tape ultimately made it to Herb Alpert, who, with Jerry Moss owned A&M Records. Alpert liked what he heard and in April of 1969, Jerry Moss signed "Carpenters" to the label.

The Carpenters' debut album, Offering, was released in November of [Image] 1969 and featured their first single, a ballad version of "Ticket to Ride," which peaked nationally at #54. "Close To You," which would become Karen and Richard's breakthrough recording, took just six weeks to reach #1; it remained for four consecutive weeks. The song was the first of 17 Top 20 singles - ten of them Gold - for the duo that have now become standards, including "Superstar," "Rainy Days And Mondays," "Sing," "Top Of The World," and "Yesterday Once More." From "Close To You" in 1970 to "A Kind Of Hush" in 1976, Karen and Richard had a string of 16 consecutive Top 20 hits.

Over the following years, Carpenters became one of the most popular groups in history, selling to date nearly 100 million units worldwide. They toured internationally through the 70s, and their 1976 tour of Japan was the largest grossing tour in that country up to that point. Karen's voice is considered by many to be the finest and most expressive in popular music. She is praised for her control, sense of pitch, and the subtle nuances of personal expression she introduced to a melody.

Karen died unexpectedly at her parents' home on February 4, 1983 from heart failure, the result of years of suffering with anorexia nervosa. Since then, Richard has remained active, releasing a solo album, TIME, in 1987. In 1989, Richard served as executive producer for the TV movie "The Karen Carpenter Story," which painted a stark and honest picture of the duo's personal lives and Karen's struggle with anorexia. He has gone back into the studio to remix (and sometimes re-record parts of) the Carpenters' repertoire for such compilations as 1991's boxed set From The Top.

1994 saw the publication of a new Carpenters biography, researched by Ray Coleman, and the release of If I Were A Carpenter, an album of songs made famous by Karen and Richard recorded by alternative rock artists, including The Cranberries and Sonic Youth. In that same year, Richard assembled and remastered of his favorite Carpenters songs by outside songwriters, Interpretations.


Karen Carpenter Main Page
Karen Carpenter Biography
Karen Carpenter Discography
Karen Carpenter Tribute