Since penning her first number one hit at age 17, Carole King became one of the brightest musical talents of all time, first as a songwriter for other acts and then as a groundbreaking and history changing solo artist. King started out as a songwriter in the legendary Brill Building since in the late ’50s, composing hits like Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which the Shirelles scored a number one hit with, and countless other songs that would help shape pop music throughout the ’60s. King eventually applied her gift for songcraft to her own albums, reaching new levels of artistry and commercial success with 1971′s landmark Tapestry. The album’s flawless confluence of melodic hooks and soft rock textures would help define the entire era it soundtracked, going on to sell over 25 million units and consistently stay in the charts for over five years. She would have a vibrant solo career that produced multiple gold and platinum albums like 1971′s Music and 1973′s Fantasy, and she remained active as a songwriter and solo performer into the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond. In addition to her life being the subject of a Broadway musical, a self-written memoir, and a PBS documentary, King’s work has won her multiple Grammys, an Emmy, and two separate inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Born Carole Klein on February 9, 1942 in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, she began playing piano at the age of four, and formed her first band, the vocal quartet the Co-Sines, while in high school. A devotee of the composing team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller (the duo behind numerous hits for Elvis Presley, the Coasters, and Ben E. King), she became a fixture at influential DJ Alan Freed’s local rock & roll shows; while attending Queens College, she fell in with budding songwriters Paul Simon and Neil Sedaka as well as Gerry Goffin, with whom she forged a writing partnership.
In 1959, Sedaka scored a hit with “Oh! Carol,” written in her honor; King cut an answer record, “Oh! Neil,” but it stiffed. She and Goffin, who eventually married, began writing under publishers Don Kirshner and Al Nevins in the famed pop songwriting house the Brill Building, where they worked alongside the likes of Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and countless others. In 1961, Goffin and King scored their first hit with the Shirelles’ chart-topping “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”; their next effort, Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby,” also hit number one, as did “The Loco-Motion,” recorded by their babysitter, Little Eva. Together, the couple wrote over 100 chart hits in a vast range of styles, including the Chiffons’ “One Fine Day,” the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof,” the Cookies’ “Chains” (later covered by the Beatles), Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman,” and the Crystals’ controversial “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).”
King also continued her attempts to mount a solo career, but scored only one hit, 1962′s “It Might as Well Rain Until September.” In the mid-’60s she, Goffin, and columnist Al Aronowitz founded their own short-lived label, Tomorrow Records; Charles Larkey, the bassist for the Tomorrow group the Myddle Class, eventually became King’s second husband after her marriage to Goffin dissolved. She and Larkey later moved to the West Coast, where in 1968 they founded the City, a trio rounded out by New York musician Danny Kortchmar. The City recorded one LP, Now That Everything's Been Said, but did not tour due to King’s stage fright; as a result, the album was a commercial failure, although it did feature songs later popularized by the Byrds (“Wasn’t Born to Follow”), Blood, Sweat & Tears (“Hi-De-Ho”), and James Taylor (“You’ve Got a Friend”).
Taylor and King ultimately became close friends, and he encouraged her to pursue a solo career. Released in 1970, Writer proved a false start, but in 1971 she released Tapestry, which stayed on the charts for nearly six years and was the best-selling album of the era. A quiet, reflective work that proved seminal in the development of the singer/songwriter genre, Tapestry also scored a pair of hit singles, “So Far Away” and the chart-topping “It’s Too Late,” whose flipside, “I Feel the Earth Move,” garnered major airplay as well. Issued in 1971, Music also hit number one, and generated the hit “Sweet Seasons”; 1972′s Rhymes & Reasons reached number two on the charts, and 1974′s Wrap Around Joy, which featured the hit “Jazzman,” hit the number one spot.
In 1975, King and Goffin reunited to write Thoroughbred, which also featured contributions from James Taylor, David Crosby, and Graham Nash. After 1977′s Simple Things, she mounted a tour with the backing group Navarro and married her frequent songwriting partner Rick Evers, who died a year later of a heroin overdose. Pearls, a collection of performances of songs written during her partnership with Goffin, was released in 1980 and was her last significant hit, and King soon moved to a tiny mountain village in Idaho, where she became active in the environmental movement. After 1983′s Speeding Time, she took a six-year hiatus from recording before releasing City Streets, which featured guest Eric Clapton. In 2001, she returned with Love Makes the World, a self-released disc on her own Rockingale label. Four years passed before her next record, The Living Room Tour, a double-disc set documenting her intimate 2004/2005 tour that found her revisiting songs from throughout her career with only her piano and acoustic guitars as accompaniment.
King joined longtime friend James Taylor for a co-starring show at L.A.’s famed Troubadour venue in 2007, and the pair followed it with several more shows, resulting in the Live at the Troubadour release in 2010. These shows also inspired the Morgan Neville-directed documentary Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor & the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter, and premiered on PBS in 2011 shortly after being released on DVD. King released her first-ever Christmas album, A Holiday Carole, through the Hear Music/Concord Music Group on November 1, 2011. Her memoir A Natural Woman was published in 2012 and spent time on the New York Times best-seller list. The following year she was awarded The Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, and she became the first woman to be awarded The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, presented by President Barack Obama at an all-star White House gala.
In 2014, King received a remarkable show business accolade: Her life became the basis for a Broadway musical, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which followed her professional and personal life in the ’60s and ’70s. The show opened on Broadway in January 2014, with a score dominated by King’s hit songs, and an original cast album appeared the following May. The next year, King was a Kennedy Center Honoree, and in 2016 she played the entirety of Tapestry at the British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park. The concert was documented on the 2017 album/DVD set Tapestry: Live in Hyde Park. King’s discography was largely absent of archival material for a star of her magnitude. With the exception of the odd live document, not much was released from the vaults until 2012′s aptly titled collection The Legendary Demos. In 2019, another rare document of King’s legacy was unearthed in the form of the DVD/audio combo footage Live at Montreux 1973. The material was captured at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland just weeks after the release of fifth album Fantasy, marking her first performance outside of the states. In 2021, King was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. This was her second recognition from the Hall of Fame, following a joint induction with Goffin in 1990 as a songwriting team. That year she also co-wrote a new song “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home),” which was used in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect alongside other King-penned songs that helped Franklin’s early rise to superstar status. ~ Jason Ankeny