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Carole King

b. February 9, 1942

by Nancy Rosen, updated by Rachel Adelstein
Last updated June 23, 2021

Image of singer, songwriter, and composer Carole King, 2008.
In Brief

Over the course of a career spanning more than half a century, Carole King has shaped American popular music behind the scenes, on stage, and in the recording studio. With her first husband, Gerry Goffin, she composed popular hits for singers including Aretha Franklin, Little Eva, The Shirelles, and Bobby Vee. As a solo artist, she broke new ground with her 1971 album Tapestry. Since then, King has composed for albums, movies, and television, and for children as well as for adults. She has received numerous awards for her music and performance and has been the subject of a biographical Broadway musical. King also works as an environmental activist and champion for the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

Carole King, a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn, gave Aretha Franklin reason to croon “A Natural Woman,” inspired Little Eva to tell a generation about the latest dance craze in “The Loco-Motion,” and let James Taylor warm our hearts with “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Personal Life

Singer-songwriter Carole King was born Carol Klein on February 9, 1942, in Brooklyn, to a middle-class Jewish family. Her parents, Sidney and Eugenia (née Cammer) Klein, a firefighter and a teacher, had one other child, Richard, born in 1948. Richard was born deaf and had intellectual disabilities, and the Kleins placed him in an institution in 1951. King identified as Jewish from childhood, although her musical interests are largely in secular popular music. She took piano lessons from her mother, starting at age four, when her family discovered that she had near-perfect pitch. She began composing and arranging pop songs while still in high school. At Queens College, she met future husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, whom she married in 1959. She gave birth to her first two children, Louise (1960) and Sherry (1963), before divorcing Goffin in 1968. She married her bassist, Charles Larkey, in 1970, and gave birth to Molly (1971) and Levi (1974). King and Larkey divorced in 1976. She later married Rick Evers, who died in 1978, and then Rick Sorensen in 1982. King and Sorensen divorced in 1989.

The Brill Building

 

King and Goffin were part of the “Brill Building Sound,” having written with other predominantly Jewish New York writers for Aldon Music, located at 1650 Broadway, around the corner from the famous Brill Building. King and Goffin wrote their first Number One hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” for the Shirelles. The song was released on the Scepter label in 1960, when King was eighteen years old. In 1971, King performed a slower version of the song on her second solo album Tapestry.

King and Goffin are credited with over 100 hits, including “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written in 1961, performed by Bobby Vee and released on the Liberty label, and “The Loco-Motion,” written in 1962, released on the Dimension label, and performed by Little Eva, whom they had met when they hired her as their babysitter. They also wrote songs for The Monkees, including “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” performed in 1967.

King and Goffin are credited with over 100 hits, including “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written in 1961, performed by Bobby Vee and released on the Liberty label, and “The Loco-Motion,” written in 1962, released on the Dimension label, and performed by Little Eva, whom they had met when they hired her as their babysitter. They also wrote songs for The Monkees, including “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” performed in 1967.

Solo Career

The 1970s were an equally, if not more, successful time for King. Following her divorce from Goffin, she moved to Los Angeles, where she met James Taylor. The two musicians played together briefly in a band and remained lifelong friends. It was Taylor who encouraged King to perform her songs as well as compose them. As a solo artist, King recorded the album Writer (Ode) in 1970. Writer debuted to modest success. King’s biggest solo success came when she recorded her second album, Tapestry (Ode), in 1971. Stylistically, Tapestry represented a move away from the highly produced Brill Building pop sound. It featured simpler orchestration and King’s solo voice singing intimate and highly personal songs dealing with themes of romance, heartbreak, and female independence.

Tapestry was Number One on the Billboard 200 for fifteen consecutive weeks. King won four Grammy Awards for the album in 1972, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year for the song “It’s Too Late,” with lyrics by Toni Stern, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Song of the Year for “You’ve Got a Friend.” King was the first woman to win Song of the Year. She was not able to accept the awards in person, having recently delivered her daughter Molly. Since its debut, Tapestry has ranked among the 100 best-selling albums of all time, achieving Diamond status in 1995. In 2020, Rolling Stone magazine placed it twenty-fifth on its list of the 500 greatest albums.

The following years brought more gold records, notably Carole King: Music (1971) and Wrap Around Joy (1974), both released on Ode. King works in multiple popular genres, including children’s music and musical theater. In 1975, she collaborated with children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak on the musical Really Rosie, which premiered as a half-hour animated television special on CBS. She has worked with many stars of the music industry, including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. In 1994, she appeared in the Broadway production of Blood Brothers and contributed to Life’s a Lesson, an album of Jewish liturgies. Her work for film and television includes “Care-A-Lot,” the title track for the 1995 The Care Bears Movie, and “Now and Forever,” the title track for the 1992 film A League of Their Own, which was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2000, she reworked her song “Where You Lead,” so that it could be used as the theme song for the television show Gilmore Girls. Despite announcing her retirement in 2012, King still tours and records regularly. She occasionally collaborates with her oldest daughter, Louise Goffin, who has become a singer-songwriter and music producer in her own right.

In addition to her work in music, King is an enthusiastic environmental advocate. After spending many years in the 1970s and early 1980s living in rural Idaho, she developed an interest in the ecology of the Northern Rockies. She began her environmental activism in the late 1980s and has worked with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies since 1990. She lobbies lawmakers and performs at benefits in support of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which would designate millions of acres of land stretching across five states in the American Northwest as wilderness eligible for federal protection.

Awards and Honors

King and Gerry Goffin were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and both received the Recording Academy’s Trustees Award in 2004. King received the National Academy of Songwriters Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988 and, along with Goffin, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a songwriter in 1990. On March 19, 2004, the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board added Tapestry to the national registry of sound recordings that are “culturally, historically . . . aesthetically significant.” 

King received additional honors in the 2010s. In 2012, she received the BMI Icon Award, and the Berklee College of Music awarded her an honorary doctorate. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that year. In 2013, she received the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song; she is the first woman to win the Gershwin Prize. In 2015, she was recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the performing arts. In May of 2021, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Performer category; this nomination is separate from her 1990 induction with Goffin.

King had several acting roles on television and on Broadway, and in 2013, she became the subject of a stage musical. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical premiered at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in October of that year, with a book by Douglas McGrath and featuring songs by King and several of her contemporaries and colleagues. Three months later, in January 2014, Beautiful opened on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre; the production ran until October 2019. Another production opened in London at the Aldwych Theatre in February 2015 and ran until May 2017. The show has toured in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. It portrays the early years of King’s career, showing the sale of her first song, her marriage to Gerry Goffin, their collaboration, and their divorce. It ends with King recording Tapestry and performing live for an appreciative audience.

Bibliography

“BEAUTIFUL: The Carole King Musical.”   Available at https://beautifulonbroadway.com/.  Accessed March 24, 2021.

Billig, Michael. Rock ‘n’ Roll Jews. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

Cohen, Mitchell S. Carole King: A Biography in Words and Pictures. Edited by Greg Shaw. New York: Sire Books, 1976.

King, Carole.  A Natural Woman: A Memoir. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012.

King, Carole. “Official Website of Carole King – Songwriter, Performer, Author | Carole King.”  Available at https://caroleking.com/.  Accessed March 24, 2021.

Pearson, Tanya. “Fifty years later, ‘Tapestry’s’ hope and optimism still resonates.” The Washington Post, February 26, 2021. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/02/26/fifty-years-later-tapestrys-hope-optimism-still-resonates/. Accessed March 24, 2021.

Peeples, Stephen. “Carole King, a Natural Woman.” Liner notes to The Ode Collection, 1968-1976. Los Angeles: Ode Records, 1994.

Perone, James. The Words and Music of Carole King. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.

Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, eds. Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. New York: Touchstone, 2001.

Weller, Sheila. Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation. New York: Atria Books, 2008.

Who’s Who of American Women, 1995—1996. 19th edition. Chicago: Marquis Publications, 1995.

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How to cite this page

Rosen, Nancy and Rachel Adelstein. "Carole King." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 23 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 28, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/king-carole>.