“And when she sat down at the piano, it was drop-dead great. Oh, my God – everything sounded like a hit!”
Production engineer Brooks Arthur
Legendary singer-songwriter Carole King wrote the music that defined life for the generation that came of age in the early 1970s. Beginning as a songwriter in the famed 1650 Broadway hit factory, King had her first #1 song at age 17 (Will You [Still] Love Me Tomorrow), co-written with then-husband Gerry Goffin). As the 1960s became the 1970s, King grew and changed in step with the seismic shift in popular culture, and both her music and her life reflected the new way of being that had swept in with the new decade. She divorced and moved to Los Angeles, buying a house in the bohemian musical enclave, Laurel Canyon. She let her hair grow and fall into its natural curls, she swapped her sweater sets for loose tunics and she began writing and performing her own music.
Carole King’s 1971 solo album Tapestry became one of the best-selling albums of all time, and it was followed by 8 successful albums before 1980. In total, she has recorded more than 30 albums, up through the 2017 Tapestry: Live In Hyde Park. Carole King’s total record sales are estimated to be over 75 million; she wrote or co-wrote 118 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1961 and 1999. And Carole’s music didn’t just resonate with her own generation. Among many examples of her enduring appeal are covers and performances by artists of today like Amy Winehouse, Adele, Mary J. Blige, and Lady Gaga.
CAROLE KING AND THE PIANO
Carole King’s instrument was always the piano. There was a piano in her childhood home in Brooklyn, which Carole loved to play from a very early age. When she was 3 or 4 her parents realized she had perfect pitch, and her mother began to teach her to read music and proper timing. Having skipped grades Carole started at Queens College early, and was soon writing songs for Dimension Records with her young husband, Gerry Goffin. Their hits included Chains (later one of the few covers the Beatles recorded), Locomotion, and – for Aretha Franklin – [You Make Me Feel Like] a Natural Woman. Carole had an inborn talent for synthesizing the sounds of blues, gospel and country into crossover hits, and she could envision the orchestration of each song in her head. As production engineer Brooks Arthur noted, “…she always had a grand vision in her head of a song; she didn’t have to use words; within the piano playing she was spelling the arrangements out.”
Charlie Thomas, one of the Drifters, the group that recorded Carole and Gerry’s Up On The Roof, said, “She used to pound down…..she played the piano, and it was amazing the songs she’d give us.”
Laurel Canyon in the early 1970s was a magical place, teeming with music and the optimism of a new age, as immortalized in Canyon resident Joni Mitchell’s 1970 Ladies of the Canyon. Canyon neighbors of Carole King and Joni Mitchell included
the members of Crosby, Sills, Nash and Young, the Eagles, the Mamas and Papas, and the Byrds as well as managers, producers and songwriters like Peter and Betsy Asher and Toni Stern. Graham Nash once said, [Laurel Canyon was like] “Vienna at the turn of the century or Paris in the 1930s.”
Carole King and Charlie Larkey, a respected bass player, were married in September 1970 and several months later moved into a house on Appian Way, a storybook stucco cottage complete with turret. Charlie’s mother gave the young couple the present piano for this new house, a piano she had inherited from her parents, who had bought it new at Steinway & Sons, New York, in 1924. The piano sat in the large, light-filled living room of the Appian Way house, where Carole was photographed sitting at its keyboard for the cover of her 1971 album, Music.
In the late 1970s Carole moved from California to Idaho, and in the early 80s she bought the 128-acre Robinson Bar Ranch, which sat beside the Salmon River in the midst of the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. An idyllic rustic retreat, with natural geothermal springs and picture-perfect views of the Boulder White Cloud mountain range, the ranch became King’s home base for more than three decades. A late 19th mining claim that had been homesteaded about 1916 by a future Idaho governor, the historic property had later served as a guest house and cross-country ski resort. Carole turned it back into a home, spending almost 20 years carefully restoring and renovating the main house and outbuildings with environmentally sound techniques like gravity-fed hot springs water to heat the floors.
Carole fashioned a log-constructed personal recording studio at the ranch, paneled in old-growth spruce from a nearby fallen tree. For decades the Steinway sat in pride of place in this studio, with its inspiring views of the surrounding mountains. In 2009 King told Architectural Digest, “…this house, more than any I've had, gives me the sense of being wrapped in the warm blanket of nature.”
In January 2014 Beautiful debuted on Broadway, a ‘bio-musical’ of Carole King’s early career featuring 15 of her hits along with hits by her friends and contemporaries, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Beautiful received 7 Tony nominations that year, winning two, including Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Jesse Mueller). It also garnered two Drama Desk awards and won the 2015 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. A London production ran from 2015-2017; touring productions are running in North America, the U.K. and Australia. It is still running on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, now starring Chilina Kennedy.
CAROLE KING HONORS
Four Grammys: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance; 1972
Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1987
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1990
Author of best-selling memoir, A Natural Woman, 2012
Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, 2012
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2012
Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (first woman), 2013
MusiCares Person of the Year, 2014
Kennedy Center Honoree, 2015
“Carole King has been one of the most influential songwriters of our time…communicating with beauty and dignity the universal human emotions of love, joy, pain and loss.”
James H. Billington/Librarian of Congress
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