Little Girl Blue: The Life Of Karen Carpenter

I’ve never been afraid to admit my love for the Carpenters; in fact, I’d say Karen Carpenter had one of the most expressive pop voices ever recorded. I adore the work her brother Richard and she did, and always found the story of her death — and the mystery attached to it — tragic. Author Randy L. Schmidt sheds light on that mystery in Little Girl Blue: The Life Of Karen Carpenter, an entertaining tome that unveils as many facts about the singer’s decline and death as he does the achievements of her life.

Meticulously researched with spoken testimonials from nearly 100 of Carpenter’s friends, business associates and family members, Schmidt covers ground previously denied other biographers. Access is usually blocked by family members, most notably the extremely private Richard Carpenter — in Little Girl Blue, however, we are finally given an intimate and honest account of the woman’s short life.

The book’s 368 pages encompass Karen and Richard’s childhood, starting in Connecticut then moving to California, with the entire four-member family determined to steer Richard’s obvious musical ability into a career. There’s some early biographical stuff about the budding band that becomes the Carpenters, especially Karen’s love for the drums. By including insights from business associates like songwriter Paul Williams and producer Phil Ramone, we get a good glimpse into how, why and where the Carpenters made their music — in the studio and on stage — and how Karen became the unique talent she was.

For the personal stuff — a side of Karen many people were not privy to unless they were very close confidants — we learn from girlfriends like Karen “Itchie” Ramone and Frenda Franklin, plus from interviews from Karen herself, about her on-again-off-again dating life, her tragic marriage and the desire she had to be a mom and have a steady family life away from a career that at times very much suffocated her.

There is no soft pedaling here. Schmidt indeed tells it like it was. He pulls no punches nor lays no blame; he’s to be applauded for getting this story out for the first time in such a no-nonsense way, while making Little Girl Blue such a sumptuous read.
In fairness to all, anorexia nervosa, the disease Karen Carpenter suffered from to the point of her demise, wasn’t very well known in the early 80s — leaving her mother, close friends and brother Richard without a clue of what to do for her. There are stories here that make your heart ache when you read how uncaring people could be to a woman who was literally withering away before their eyes.

What one comes away with, beyond the tragedy of a talented woman dying way too young, is the enduring nature of the music Karen Carpenter made. What the Carpenters created was truly unique — as powerful a musical legacy as any modern pop band has ever created. In the end, that’s really the measure of an artist and what Little Girl Blue: The Life Of Karen Carpenter is about — the enduring legacy of a great musician.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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