Karen Carpenter was the amazing voice and percussionist that propelled brother-sister duo, The Carpenters, to fame. Paul McCartney described her voice as “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.” She was named in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 greatest singers of all time. It’s hard to overestimate the impact Karen Carpenter had on me growing up in the early 1970s. Here she was, by her own description, an “ordinary” woman, playing the drums and singing like a boss! I mean, if women could play the drums … they could do anything, I thought … maybe even be astronauts or lawyers, but for sure drummers … an aspiration my mother squelched not so much because I was a girl as for the obvious other reason. I have great memories with my friend harmonizing at the top of our lungs with entire albums of Carpenters music (alternating between that and her favorite, Barbara Streisand, of course).
But, by 1974, Karen already had a serious eating disorder. A 1974 Rolling Stone article (link in the comments) said “[a]t a back table in Beverly Hills’ La Scala restaurant, …. [w]hile everyone else at dinner (including her brother) was enjoying sumptuous pasta, she had before her a simple green salad and iced tea. She was, as usual, on a diet.” In 1983, at age 32, she died of a heart attack that resulted from anorexia.
What we can learn from Karen’s short life is to appreciate our talents and gifts rather than mourning the inability to be what we think other people want us to be, and also that we–that is, all of us–should stop being so judgey about other people. Instead of looking for people’s flaws and mistakes, we should celebrate their accomplishments and the joy they bring us … like the opportunity to belt out Close to You, including the trumpet solo, while thinking our voice sounds every bit as good as the real thing. And like the tiny switch that clicks in your brain–that you aren’t even conscious of–when you see a woman successfully doing something you hadn’t previously seen women doing before, such as playing the drums. That tiny click of a switch tells you that you can grow up to do … and be … anything you want! Those small moments are the ones we will remember … and Karen Carpenter gave me some of those moments.
Read more about Karen at this link, and watch a couple of her performances.