Carpenter, Richard (Contemporary Musicians)
Pianist, composer, arranger
Musical prodigy Richard Lynn Carpenter is permanently etched into the memory of the American popular music scene as the creative force behind The Carpenters, the vastly popular singing duo of the 1970s and early 1980s. The Carpenters began when, at the age of 19, Richard Carpenter turned his talents to composing and arranging music specifically to spotlight the singing talents of his younger sister, the late Karen Carpenter Burris. Together the siblings experienced incredible popularity and sold millions of records. The two achieved international fame and won numerous awards until the untimely death of Karen Carpenter in 1983. Richard Carpenter successfully worked his way through the loss of his sister and resurfaced to embark on a solo career as well as to release a series of posthumous albums of music by Carpenters.
Born October 15, 1946 in New Haven, Connecticut, Carpenter began to collect records before he could read the labels. By age four he was already captivated by the world of music and began accordion lessons. He began piano studies at age eight, and although he favored the piano as an instrument he failed to impress his first piano teacher. It was Henry Will, Carpenter's second piano teacher, who noted that the boy was clearly engrossed with improvisation, arranging, and writing songs. Carpenter was particularly intrigued by musical scales and harmonies, and by the time he was 12, his musical talent was undeniable. "He was about twelve. The whole neighborhood knew that he was on his way to becoming a professional musician, even then," stated a family friend to biographer Ray Coleman. The boy hounded his parents incessantly to purchase records. He was not partial to any particular style; he loved all music. After three years of lessons, piano teacher Henry Will referred Carpenter for an audition at Yale Music School because of the boy's astonishing aptitude for music.
During his primary school years, Carpenter was not a popular student, especially in high school. His classmates viewed him as odd because of his advanced preoccupation with music, which ran contrary to the interests of his peers. Shunning sports and other extracurricular activities, he started an ensemble of sax, bass, and drums with some friends. They developed an extensive repertoire and the ability to play on demand. At age 16, he participated in a professional recording session for a local New Haven group.
Carpenter was 16 years old when his family moved to Downey, California, near Los Angeles. He transferred to Downey High School where he was an average student. He learned to play the organ at the request of the pastor of a local Methodist Church. He also performed as a lounge act in his spare time while his was still in high school. After graduation in 1964 he enrolled in a music program at California State University at Long Beach, but becoming increasingly sidetracked by show business and performing, he abandoned his studies before earning a degree. He then formed the Richard Carpenter Trio with his younger sister on drums, and fellow college student Wes Jacobs on tuba. The group worked around the area in local restaurants, and for parties and other affairs. In 1966, at age 19, Carpenter entered his trio in the Battle of the Bands on at the Hollywood Bowl, and won prizes for the best instrumentalist and best combo leader. The recognition led to a short-lived contract with RCA records for the trio at the end of 1966.
During the summer of 1967, Carpenter performed at Disneyland with John Bettis as a banjo and piano duo. That partnership ultimately led to a long-time song writing and producing collaboration between Bettis and Carpenter. All the while the Carpenters, brother and sister, continued working in churches and performing at amateur night shows while Richard Carpenter gave piano lessons on the side, to finance a new piano. At one point the duo teamed with Bill Sissyoev on double bass for an appearance on "Your All American College Show." That performance earned them a commercial contract with Ford Motor Company.
The Carpenters' big break came when trumpet player and record producer Herb Alpert of A&M Records heard a tape of Karen Carpenter's voice in 1969. Alpert was determined to market the wholesome Carpenter siblings, despite the media's tight focus at that time with hard rock, hippies, and other more rebellious subcultures. Alpert signed the Carpenters to A&M records on April 22, 1969. Their first album, Offering, was released that same year. The album sold poorly, but Alpert resolved to try at least one more record. For their second release the Carpenters pulled an old Hal David/Bert Bacharach song from relative obscurity. The recording, "Close to You," became a number one best seller by the summer of 1970, and launched the duo into the big time.
Rapid Rise to Fame
The Carpenters next recorded a song that originally aired on a bank commercial. The song "We've Only Just Begun," was written byhen unknownaul Williams. Within weeks of its release, the song rewarded the duo with their second smash hit. Coleman quoted Williams's partner, Roger Nichols in reference to the Carpenters rapid success, "They [Richard and Karen Carpenter] had a frightening amount of musical talent drooling off them." Meanwhile the decision had been made to market the duo not as The Carpenters, but simply as "Carpenters." Carpenters' second album, Close to You, was released in 1970, and they embarked on a tour of the U.S. later that year.
While on tour they heard and were enamored with "For All We Know," the theme from the feature film Lovers and Other Strangers. The two decided almost immediately to record the song that became their third hit single. In 1971, "Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down," another Paul Williams song, was their fourth single to sell a million copies. Key to Carpenters' success was Richard Carpenter's talent for writing, selecting, and arranging songs to most effectively showcase, his sister's beautiful and eloquent voice. In 1971 Carpenters were nominated for six Grammy awards, of which they won two: Best Contemporary Vocal Group and Best New Artist. Noted composer Henry Mancini was impressed so much by Carpenters that he offered them a song with vocal and piano scores, to record on their third album. That album, Carpenters, earned gold certification and won a Grammy Award the following year.
Richard Carpenter and his sister earned a reputation as a pair of driven perfectionists and work-a-holics, yet down-to-earth at the same time. Seemingly unaffected by fame, the Carpenter siblings treated the members of their entourage as equals. When Jerry Weintraub took over as manager of Carpenters in 1976, however, the group was faltering between Karen Carpenter's health problemshe had developed the eating disorder, anorexia nervosand Richard Carpenter's addiction to sleeping pills. As the talented duo launched into stardom, they operated at breakneck pace, their schedule habitually overbooked: 145 concerts in 1971, plus a European tour; 174 concerts in 1972, plus live performances, television appearances, and an album; 174 concerts in 1973, plus an album and three television appearances. Additionally, Carpenter suffered a serious motorcycle accident that year. He broke his leg and his wrist, sprained the other wrist, and spent five months healing in casts, yet refused to slow his work pace. In 1974 there were 203 concerts and a trip to Japan, where the pair encountered massive crowds. Carpenters performed 118 concerts in 1975, toured Japan and Europe, and taped an album. Their schedule that year was too hectic even for the driven Carpenter siblings, and portions of the European tour overflowed into 1976.
Until that time Richard Carpenter's growing addiction to Quaaludes, a powerful sleeping medication, was not apparent. The Carpenters in fact were known to sip on iced tea during recording sessions and while working, but never to drink alcohol. At the peak of their stardom, during the mid-1970s, Karen Carpenter developed anorexia nervosa. Richard Carpenter, troubled by his sister's failing health, turned to alcohol, cigarettes, and increasingly frequent doses of sleeping pills. At the peak of his addiction, Carpenter was known to take as many as six pills at a time and then wake up in the middle of the night to take some more. In 1977 Carpenter was hospitalized in an unsuccessful attempt to quell the addition. His performance ability was affected, and by 1978 he turned over a significant share of his behind-the-scenes work to Peter Knight for their holiday album, Christmas Portrait. Carpenter lost the strength to perform. Lacking confidence and concentration, he canceled engagements. He underwent treatment again in 1979, and his health improved. Carpenters released Made in America in 1981, a comeback album, and made a promotional tour in London. The album includes the Carpenter/Bettis hit "Because We Are in Love," written as a wedding song for Karen Carpenter who married Tom Burris in 1980. A second reunion album, underway in 1982, was never completed. Karen Carpenter's marriage quickly dissolved. She became increasingly ill and died of heart failure due to her anorexic condition in 1983.
After grieving the death of his sister, Carpenter released his first solo recording, Time, in 1987. For the next ten years Carpenter became involved in a variety of personal and professional projects, before emerging with his second solo album, Pianist-Arranger-Composer-Conductor, in 1997. Carpenter, as always, maintained extensive control over the production of his music. At live performances, Carpenter interspersed an assortment of newer songs, mixed with reprises of vintage Carpenter tunes from the 1970s, plus classics from other composers.
During the course of Richard and Karen Carpenter's careers, the siblings were hosted by President Richard Nixon at the White House to entertain West German Chancellor Willy Brandton May 1, 1973. They won three Grammy awards and received a "Georgie" award in 1971 from the American Guild of Variety Artists for Best Musical Group. October 12, 1983 marked the dedication of a Carpenters square on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. New Haven's Nathan Hale School presented a Hall of Fame Award "To Richard and Karen Carpenter" at graduation ceremonies on June 19, 1991, and California State University Long Beach Campus dedicated the Carpenter Performance Arts Center to the duo.
Time, A&M, 1987.
Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor, A&M, 1997.
Offering, A&M, 1969.
Close To You (includes "We've Only Just Begun"), A&M, 1970.
Carpenters (includes "Rainy Days and Mondays"), A&M, 1971.
A Song for You (includes "Top of the World"), A&M, 1972.
Now and Then, (includes "Sing"), A&M 1973.
Horizon, A&M 1975.
Christmas Portrait, A&M, 1978.
Made in America, A&M 1981.
Voice of the Heart, A&M, 1983.
An Old Fashioned Christmas, A&M, 1984.
Loveliness, A&M, 1989.
From the Top, A&M, 1991.
Coleman, Ray, The Carpenters: the Untold Story, Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1997.
, (October 2, 1998).