Karen Carpenter was part of a group called the Carpenters, made up of her brother and Karen herself. She played the drums originally, and was one of the best, according to some. However, her singing is what was unique, and set her apart from her peers. Interestingly, it was the transition of her being behind the drums to performing at centre stage that propelled her nervousness about her body image, leading her to develop anorexia nervosa. When she looked in the mirror, she saw someone fatter than what reality said.
Why should we listen to her music? She has a perfect alto, in an industry where most women are some variation of a soprano. She is reported to never have been off pitch. In this day of autotuning, that is very impressive. Her voice had a strong tinge of melancholy to it, which seems glamorous. Greta Garbo, the famous movie star from the 1920s and 1930s also had this aura of melancholy, although of course she expressed it differently.
Carpenter was not a belter like Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, or Mariah Carey. She was more like the alto version of Olivia Newton-John, another famous singer (very famous!) from the 1970s and ’80s. Carpenter would put today’s American Idol contestants to shame.
The main problem with the female contestants on musical reality shows these days is they feel this need to add a run. Carpenter confined herself to singing the melody and since her brother arranged astoundingly beautiful music, the melody was all you needed to be transported to a place of beauty. American Idol contestants are overly fond of melismas, which are basically runs, and sometimes are attempted in order to cover up problems with staying on pitch, a problem from which Carpenter reportedly never suffered.
Even when music was much better, in the ’70s and ’80s, Carpenter stood out. Here are some recommendations if you are interested in hearing from this beautiful singer, or just want to be reminded of how good she was:
A Song For You
Close to You
Rainy Days and Mondays
We’ve Only Just Begun
All you get from love is a love song