Carole King: From Brooklyn’s Madison HS to Library of Congress
Carole King, Brooklyn-raised singer-songwriter, has become the first woman to win the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, joining such well-known figures as Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.
“Carole King has been one of the most influential songwriters of our time,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said. “For more than five decades, she has written for and been recorded by many different types of artists for a wide range of audiences, communicating with beauty and dignity the universal human emotions of love, joy, pain and loss.”
King, who was born Carole Klein in Manhattan but grew up on East 24th Street in Gravesend, Brooklyn, actually had two careers – the first as a songwriter for other performers, the second as a singer-songwriter in her own right.
As a teenager attending James Madison High School, Carole King became part of a loose confederation of songwriters and singers, mainly Jewish, from Brooklyn and Queens. She and Paul Simon formed a group known as the Cosines that made demo records, meaning records meant to demonstrate songs to record producers. In 1959, Neil Sedaka, who lived in Brighton Beach at the time, dedicated his song “Oh Carol,” to her, and King recorded an answer record, “Oh Neil.”
After she married Gerry Goffin, the two of them began writing songs professionally. Their first hit was “Take Good Care of My Baby,” recorded by Bobby Vee in 1961. Afterward, they wrote hit songs for the Drifters (“Up on the Roof”), the Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), Little Eva (“The Locomotion”) the Chiffons (“One Fine Day”), Freddy Scott (“Hey Girl”) and even the Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”).
At the same time, she pursued a largely unsuccessful career as a singer. Her biggest single of the time, “It Might as Well Rain Until September,” rose to Number 22 on the U.S. charts in 1962, although it made Number 3 in the U.K.
After she divorced Goffin in 1968, she moved to California and finally became a star with her 1971 album “Tapestry,” featuring herself singing her self-penned songs. “Tapestry” produced several hit singles, including “It’s Too Late,” “I Feel the Earth Move” and a remake of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It stayed on the charts for six years.
The album, which featured many of the same L.A. session musicians who backed up other soft-rock singers like James Taylor and Linda Rodstadt, sold 10 million copies in the U.S. and won four Grammy awards.
Throughout the 1970s, she continued to have other best-selling albums, such as “Carole King: Music,” “Rhymes and Reasons,” “Fantasy” and “Wrap-around Joy” as well as hit singles such as “Sweet Seasons” and “Jazzman.”
She became the focus of renewed attention in 2010, when she and James Taylor appeared in a TV special and live album recorded at the Troubadour, a Los Angeles folk club where both had played in the early 1970s.
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