Thursday, September 5, 2013

Remembering Karen Carpenter March 2, 1950 - February 4, 1983

When posed the question  What female has the greatest singing voice?  Many would say Barbra Streisand or Whitney Houston.  My pick would be the angelic sound of
the late Karen Carpenter.

Karen and her brother Richard formed the popular 1970's duo "The Carpenters" whose hits include "Close to You" "We've Only Just Begun" and "Because We Are In Love"

Karen was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut.  As a child, she was a tomboy and loved to play baseball with the neighborhood kids.  As a youngster, she appeared on the television program "This is Your Life" and mentioned that she loved pitching.  Her brother Richard was a piano prodigy.  The Carpenter family moved to Los Angeles in 1963 when Karen was 13 years old.  She attended Downey High School and joined the school band.  She soon took an interest in the drums and became an outstanding percussionist.  Karen and Richard decided to put their talents together, asked a friend to join them and became the Richard Carpenter Trio.  They performed locally at many nightclubs and tried out for a television talent show called "Your All American College Show"  They were also involved in another group called "Spectrum" and recorded several songs in a private recording studio.  They were not very successful until A&M Records signed them to a contract  in 1969.  Karen sang several of the songs from the band's first album called "Offering" that later became "Ticket To Ride" that would become their first successful single and also a successful song for the Beatles.  Karen and Richard wrote ten of the thirteen songs.  They soon recorded another album called "Close To You" that featured two more huge singles  (They Long to Be) Close to You and "We've Only Just Begun"  The two songs ranked #1 and #2 on the Hot 100 Hits.

Having started out as the drummer for the group, she often appeared (as drummers do) in the background and practically invisible. She was encouraged to become more visible and soon gave up the drums to be a more noticeable figure in the group.  As time went on, Richard became addicted to quaaludes and from time to time cancelled performances that eventually led to the demise of the group.

Karen soon started a solo career and recorded an album with Phil Ramone that was stopped shortly before it was produced.

On Karen's personal side, she resided with her parents until she was 26 years of age.  She moved into an apartment  and later bought two apartments, gutted them and turned them into a condo.  She was also a collector of Disney memorabilia and her friends included Petula Clark, Dionne Warwick and Olivia Newton John.    After dating a few celebrities, she met a real estate developer and the two were married for a brief time.  During that time, she developed a serious eating disorder that eventually took over her life.

Karen Carpenter's final recording was a song called "Now" while being treated for anorexia nervosa, however, her condition continued to deteriorate and caused a huge weight loss that resulted in an irregular heart beat.  After losing 30 pounds in eight weeks, she entered a hospital in New York.

Carpenter returned to California and was determined to reinvent her career, finalize her divorce and on Dec. 17, 1982, she gave her final singing performance that included Christmas carols to school age children (including Karen's godchildren).

Karen Carpenter died less than a month before her 33rd birthday of heart failure on February 4, 1983 after collapsing in her parent's home in Downey, California.  Her death resulted from her battle with anorexia.

The Utter McKinley Mortuaries in California directed Karen's funeral on February 8, 1983 from the Downey United Methodist Church.  She was dressed in a rose-colored suit while over 1000 members of her family and fans passed by her open casket that included skater, Dorothy Hamill and the friends mentioned above.  Her funeral program (pictured) was inscribed with the words

       She Sang
        For the Hearts
         Of us all
          Too soon and too young
           Our Karen is still,
            But her echo
             Will linger

Karen's funeral program
Pallbearers included Herb Alpert of the Tijuana Brass fame and honorary pallbearers were Olivia Newton John, Burt Bacharach, Dorothy Hamill and Cubby O'Brien (the Mouseketeer and Carpenters drummer)

She was laid to rest in the Forest Lawn Cypress Cemetery but was later moved to Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in 2003.

Tribute Program
On Saturday, June 25, 1983, "A Tribute To Karen Carpenter" (program pictured) was held at The First Congregational Church of Long Beach.  Among those who performed at the concert included her brother Richard and John Bettis ( a member of the Carpenters group) and the California State University Choir.  Her brother Richard wrote  "February 4, 1983.  On that day I
Karen's resting place at Valley Oaks
lost my sister; a dear friend, and my professional partner.  The world lost a beautiful spirit.  Karen had not only a voice that was heaven-sent, but a personality that warmed the lives of everyone who had met and known her.  She was with us only 32 years.  Though my family and I will never get over losing her at such an early age, we can take comfort in the marvelous legacy she left us all.  Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss gave us the opportunity to record and due to the opportunity Karen's voice touched and will continue to touch the lives of millions.  That was a privilege she was very proud I am proud of her.  She is greatly missed."  Richard

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