Friday, June 8, 2012

Icons From the Age of Anxiety: Pop Singer and Drummer Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter (1950-1983) was the talented singer who, with her brother, Richard, formed the 1970s pop music duo The Carpenters.

Karen was also a drummer whose skills earned her admiration from her peers, although she is more often celebrated for her vocal performances of breezy romantic ballads.

Karen's brother, Richard, had developed an interest in music at an early age, becoming a piano prodigy. Karen showed less interest in music as a young child. The family moved from New Haven Connecticut to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey in June 1963.

Karen's drumming was praised by fellow drummers Hal Blaine, Cubby O'Brien, Buddy Rich, and by Modern Drummer magazine. According to Richard Carpenter in an interview, Karen always considered herself a "drummer who sang." Carpenter started playing the drums in 1964. She was always enthusiastic about the drums and taught herself how to play even the most challenging drum lines with exotic time signatures.

Karen and Richard made their first recordings in 1965 and 1966. The following year Karen began dieting. Under a doctor's guidance she went on the Stillman Diet. She rigorously ate lean foods, drank 8 glasses of water a day, and avoided fatty foods. Karen was 5'4" in height, and before dieting, weighed 145 pounds. By late 1975, her weight had dropped to 91 pounds.

According to Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Offering, the Carpenters' first album, was released in November 1969. Neither Offering nor the accompanying single, a cover of the Beatles' Ticket to Ride, made a big impression. However, the Carpenters' fortunes changed with their second single, a version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "(They Long to Be) Close to You." Taken from the album Close to You, the single became the group's first number one, spending four weeks on the top of the U.S. charts. "Close to You" became an international hit, beginning a five-year period where the duo was one of the most popular recording acts in the world. During that period the Carpenters won two Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist of 1970, and had an impressive string of Top Ten hits, including "Rainy Days and Mondays," "Superstar," "Hurting Each Other," "Goodbye to Love," "Yesterday Once More," and "Top of the World." After 1975's number-four hit "Only Yesterday," the group's popularity began to decline."

Karen dated a number of well-known beaus, including Mike Curb, Tony Danza, Mark Harmon, Steve Martin and Alan Osmond. After a whirlwind romance, Karen married real-estate developer Thomas James Burris in 1980, in the Crystal Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel. A new song performed by Karen at the ceremony, Because We Are In Love, was released in 1981.

Karen suffered from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder of extreme weight loss dieting, which was a little-known illness at the time. She died at the age of 32 from heart failure, caused by complications related to her anxiety disorder which compelled her to feel that she needed to lose weight.

Karen Carpenter's tragic death brought lasting media attention to anorexia nervosa and also to bulimia. In the years after Carpenter's death, a number of celebrities went public about their eating disorders, among them Diana, Princess of Wales. Medical centers and hospitals began receiving increased numbers of patients suffering from these disorders. The general public had little knowledge of anorexia nervosa and bulimia prior to Karen's death, making the condition difficult to diagnose and treat. Her family started the Karen A. Carpenter Memorial Foundation, which has raised money for research on anorexia nervosa and eating disorders.

Today the name of the organization has been changed to the Carpenter Family Foundation. In addition to eating disorders, the foundation now funds the arts, entertainment and education.

Studio albums:

Offering (later reissued as Ticket to Ride) (1969)
Close to You (1970)
Carpenters (1971)
A Song for You (1972)
Now & Then (1973)
The Singles: 1969–1973 (1973)
Horizon (1975)
A Kind of Hush (1976)
Passage (1977)
Christmas Portrait (1978)
The Singles: 1974–1978 (1978)
Made in America (1981)
Voice of the Heart (1983)
An Old-Fashioned Christmas (1984)
Lovelines (1989)
As Time Goes By (2003)

Solo album:

Karen Carpenter (1996)

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