Karen Carpenter, Drummer Badass

by:   |   Aug 1 2014


Most of us know Karen Carpenter from The Carpenters, the dreamy, dippy ’70s pop duo that sold millions of albums worldwide. With her brother Richard, Karen created soft-rock vocal-heavy jams that filled the wood-paneled station wagons of our youth. Their hits like, “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Superstar” are now iconic, melancholy classics.

Karen Carpenter drums

What most people don’t remember is that Karen Carpenter was actually a killer drummer. In 1964, Karen started to get serious about teaching herself how to play, and was soon really impressive. In fact, she considered herself a “drummer who sang,” and started her career singing from behind the drum set. But her brother and manager persuaded her to step into the spotlight, partly because of her all-American good looks, and also because her tiny stature (she was only 5’4″) made her disappear behind the drum kit. At the time, the general public was baffled about why a pretty young lady would want to be a drummer, since that was generally a man’s racket. I love that Karen, a seemingly sticky-sweet pop musician, fearlessly broke that mold (without any female role models), and didn’t care what the world had to say. Get it girl! Give ’em dose beats!


As her career progressed, her drumming took a backseat to her frontwoman role, although her heart always stayed with her drums. She did receive some recognition for skills over the years—in 1975, she was voted #1 Rock Drummer of the Year in Playboy mag’s opinion poll. John Bonham from Led Zeppelin wasn’t happy about coming in second, saying, “I’d like to have it publicized that I came in after Karen Carpenter in the Playboy drummer poll! She couldn’t last 10 minutes with a Zeppelin number.” Oh eat it, Bonham. Don’t be intimidated by the girl’s skills! Check out the extended clip below, to check out the range of her drumming skills.

Karen Carpenter_chair

Although she received worldwide recognition for her musical talents, Karen Carpenter’s personal life was surrounded by a fog of sadness. She lived with her parents until she was 26, after which she finally got her own place. (The doorbell in her apartment rang the first six notes of “We’ve Only Just Begun”. [Note to self: TOP life priority: when I become a lady baller I NEED that doorbell. And on a general note, a custom doorbell=Hot Fire Glamour.]) Her whirlwind marriage to a big-time real-estate developer ended after only 14 months, when Karen—who really wanted children—found out that he’d had a vasectomy and lied about it. Only a few years later, her life was cut tragically short at the age of only 32, when her very public battle with anorexia ended in February of 1983. She was one of the first celebrities to die of anorexia, and her death helped raise awareness that the disease was a very real threat. But luckily, we’ll always have recordings of the amazing drum licks and smooth-as-velvet pop vocals that made her a star.

And if you wanna see a slightly tacky yet weirdly absorbing dramatization of Karen’s life, check out this 1989 biopic, which is on YouTube in its entirety:

God bless the Internet.

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Creative Director of G.A.L.

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  • Selwyn Katz

    Love her so much. R.I.P. Karen Anne.