Lead Sister: The Story of Karen Carpenter

Rowman & Littlefield. Oct. 2023. 368p. ISBN 9781538184462. $32. MUSIC
O’Brien (She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Popular Music) tells the beautiful, hauntingly sad tale of Carpenter, the superstar with the singularly mellifluous, transcendent voice, part of the sibling band the Carpenters. Carpenter died on February 4, 1983, at age 32, from cardiotoxic complications as a result of anorexia. The book delves into familial Carpenter exegesis to isolate significant and recurring stressors that exacerbated her condition. These include her family’s unyielding focus on her only and older sibling, Richard, as the star of their musical partnership; her overbearing and controlling mother; Karen’s preoccupation with perfectionism; and her relentless touring and recording schedule. She also felt the burden of feeling financially responsible for maintaining the Carpenter machine and all those who depended on it. This book further examines her label and her brother’s decision to stop Carpenter from playing the drums—her primary delight as a musician—and have her front the band as lead vocalist. O’Brien’s choice to begin this book with an invocation and end it with a benediction reflects the spiritual regard with which she approaches her subject.
VERDICT This may well become the definitive biography of Carpenter and an excellent companion to Randy L. Schmidt’s Little Girl Blue. Pop music fans will appreciate this strong biography.
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