A music teacher’s fresh perspective reanimates the rise and fall of an American recording icon.
As evidenced by Dionne Warwick’s fond introduction, Carpenter (1950–1983) was cherished by many. Schmidt (editor: Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and Their Music, 2000) boasts that his biography is, unlike others, “free of an agenda and the Carpenter family’s editorial control.” The author affectionately chronicles the life of this diminutive daughter of a blue-collar father and a “persnickety,” meddlesome mother, whose rural Connecticut childhood was fortified by brother Richard’s intensive musical interest, a talent Karen honed by playing drums and singing in grade school, well after the family relocated to Southern California (19-20) in the early ’60s. In 1966, the “Richard Carpenter Trio”—Richard on piano, Karen on drums and Wes Jacobs on bass—garnered a short-lived record contact. A “chubby” music major, Karen debuted her vocal versatility in college choir and quickly wowed audiences together with Richard as The Carpenters, who were signed to A&M Records in 1969. Eschewing drumming for lead vocals, Karen stood out. Though somewhat reluctantly embracing her unique vocal blend of “intensity and emotion,” her popularity skyrocketed. High-profile appearances in the ’70s spawned dabbles in love, an ill-fated marriage and a deadly dieting compulsion (“Her face was all eyes” said friend Carole Curb). Her conservative family turned a blind eye to her struggles and only came to terms with her condition when Karen, at 32, was found face down in her closet in early 1983. Schmidt culled his comprehensive biography from interviews with friends, business acquaintances and family members, many of whom, he claims, spoke about Karen for the first time since her death.
Pages of photographs compliment this dense, fact-filled treatment, which carefully skirts sensationalism while exposing new truths in this haunting tragedy.