Ovation: Karen Carpenter, On The 30th Anniversary Of Her Death.
While the careers of today’s pop stars often appear to be centered on their personalities more so than their musical inclinations, it used to be that the best singers were also fantastic musicians. The voice is, after all, an instrument like no other and a beautiful singing voice is a wonderful gift. Before the invention of electronic tools like auto-tune and voice-manipulating computer software, vocalists had to use only their voices to convey the emotion of the songs that they performed.
One of my all-time favorite female vocalists was Karen Anne Carpenter who died from complications related to anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder which was little known at the time, on February 4, 1983, thirty years ago today. Carpenter, a skilled and accomplished drummer, along with her brother Richard formed the 1970 duo The Carpenters.
The music of The Carpenters became the soundtrack of the early 1970s. The duo’s melodic soft, musical and Grammy Award-winning style made them among the best-selling music artists of all time. During their fourteen-year career, they recorded eleven albums, thirty-one singles, five television specials and a short-lived television series.
Their first big single, Ticket to Ride, brought them national attention but their next album, 1970’s Close To You, featured two massive hit singles “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” which ruled the airwaves and continue to be played at weddings around the world. One of my favorites has always been “Rainy Days and Mondays”.
Carpenter started out as both the group’s drummer and lead singer, and she originally sang all her vocals from behind the drum set. Eventually, she was persuaded to stand at the microphone to sing the band’s hits while another musician played the drums, although she still did some drumming. Carpenter was persuaded to stand up and sing instead of playing the drums because at 5 feet 4 inches tall, it was difficult for people in the audience to see her behind her drum set.
Her singing was relaxing and easy. Her pitch was usually perfect and her phrasing was always emotional. Even her breathing was musical. Singers of today don’t compare.
On February 4, 1983, less than a month before her 33rd birthday, Carpenter suffered heart failure at her parents’ home in Downey, California. She was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress, California but, in 2003, Richard Carpenter had Karen re-interred, along with their parents, in the Carpenter family mausoleum at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California, which is closer to his Southern California home.
At the time, the general public had little knowledge of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia so Carpenter’s death brought a face and lasting media attention to the disease. Her voice continues to bring beauty to our lives.
Karen Anne Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983).
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