On this day in 1970, The Carpenters, the iconic pop music duo consisting of New Haven-born siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter, experienced the first major breakthrough of their musical careers. Their song, “Close to You,” reached #1 on the Billboard charts, where it remained for the next four weeks.
Born in 1946 and 1950 respectively, Richard and Karen Carpenter enjoyed a happy childhood in their suburban New Haven neighborhood. There, they attended local public schools and frequented nearby Lighthouse Point and Fort Nathan Hale parks. From an early age, Richard displayed an incredible talent for music, becoming a predominantly self-taught piano virtuoso. At 14, he began taking advanced piano lessons at the Yale School of Music with the intention of becoming a professional performer. Karen Carpenter idolized her older brother and, following in his footsteps, developed her own musical talents, first as a singer, and later as a percussionist. The two often practiced together in the basement of their New Haven home.
In 1963, the Carpenter family moved to southern California, and six years later, A&M records signed a deal with them after hearing a demo tape. Richard’s talent for musical arrangement and performance combined with Karen’s smooth, soulful contralto voice proved to be a winning combination. Following the success of their “Close to You” album, they remained a dominant force in the American pop music scene for well over a decade. They earned three Grammy awards, performed at the White House, starred in their own television series, and toured worldwide before Karen’s tragic death from anorexia nervosa in 1983. To date, the Carpenters remain one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold over 90 million albums.
Suzie Hunter, “Revisiting the Carpenters’ New Haven Roots,” WTNH News 8
Randy L. Schmidt, “Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter (excerpt and book review),” New York Times