Karen Carpenter: Energetic All-Singing, All-Drumming ’70s Icon

Interpretations by The Carpenters featuring Karen Carpenter
The Carpenters had a clause in their contract to be grinning 24/7.

Although Karen Carpenter (1950-1983) had an, ultimately, rather tragic life, in the ’70s she skyrocketed to fame with her all-singing, all-drumming style.

With her impressive musical skills, singing voice, and good looks, she became a wholesome darling of ’70s America. And we want to pay tribute to her excellent drumming chops.

Celebrating Karen Carpenter’s Drumming Chops (and singing)

Born in California, Carpenter showed creativity from age four when she was tap dancing and ballet dancing.

She joined her high school band in 1964 when she was 14 and was soon drawn to the drum kit, having already taken a shine to her favourites Joe Morello and Ringo Starr.

In 1965 she teamed up with her brother Richard (a piano playing prodigy three years older than her) and, after playing local gigs, got signed up by A&M Records in 1969.

Along with Moe Tucker and a handful of others, Carpenter soon established herself as one of the most famous female drummers in history.

The Carpenters were a big deal in the ’60s and ’70s, with massive hits like Yesterday Once More and Close to You.

The band’s main attraction was, of course, Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard. But they did have a supporting band to perform their songs, which involved complex musical arrangements.

As part of their contractual duties to their record label, they were required to grin inanely in 100% of photoshoots.

We jest here but, seriously, the wholesome family-friendly image was pushed very heavily with The Carpenters. It makes it all pretty sickly sweet by modern standards.

But it was one of the reasons why they were popular. With their supporting band of musicians, the good looking siblings were talented and amiable.

Karen Carpenter boasted a velvet voice and impressive vocal range.

In recent years, it’s her drumming skills that have brought a lot of attention back to her.

Along with being able to sing whilst drumming (something few drummers can do, although note Levon Helm and Reni), she had great versatility.

She was skilled with a jazzy style, as you can see from this July 1968 performance. And she was only 18 here, what ho!

Into the ’70s, she adapted her style further for live performances.

Along with a basic four piece kit, the stage show featured various tom toms placed all over the place. And she’d energetically run between kits to thrash out beats.

It makes for an appealing live performance and keeps you guessing with what’s about to happen next.

Whilst Keith Moon is often attributed with bringing showmanship to drumming, you can’t fault Carpenter’s helping hand there.

Although a lot of The Carpenters’ music remains rather twee to modern sensibilities, it doesn’t diminish from what she was doing. It was pioneering and entertaining work.

And the reward was international success, with 12 top 10 singles and three number one hits to The Carpenter’s name.

However, despite the relentless grinning, behind the scenes things were far from harmonious.

She had a very difficult relationship with her domineering mother, Agnes, who favoured her son. This was to the extent her daughter felt completely unloved by her.

Carpenter also struggled with dieting throughout her life and from the early ’70s onward became convinced she was overweight.

By 1975 she weighed only 6 stone 7 pounds (41kg) and fans were often stunned by her emaciated appearance. In fact, many would gasp in shock when she took to the stage.

Unfortunately, this had a serious impact on her health, which declined steadily into the early ’80s.

She was battling anorexia nervosa. And, very sadly, this put a lot of strain on her body and resulted in a fatal heart attack on February 4th, 1983. She was 32.

But since her death, a lot of her musical skills have been revaluated and she’s become a much-celebrated figure online.

Not least as an excellent drummer and singer.

And her battle with anorexia nervosa has also inspired a more open public dialogue about this condition, along with mental health issues as a whole.

Something of a fitting tribute to a talented lady, we believe.

4 comments

  1. The Carpenters are certainly not my type of music, but the talent this woman had was just absurd. One hell of a drummer and one hell of a singer. It’s a once-in-a-generation combination.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s like Liberace and Mariah Carey. Excellent skills. Music I don’t care for. But, I still try to admire them. With Karen Carpenter it’s easy. With Mariah Carey it isn’t. At all.

      Like

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