There may not be another living female songwriter as important to her craft as 2015 Kennedy Center Honoree Carole King. In a career spanning more than five decades, King has penned over 400 songs that have been recorded by over 1,000 artists. At just 17, she wrote her first number one hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” with her then husband Gerry Goffin for The Shirelles. The dozens of chart-busting songs she subsequently wrote for other artists throughout the ‘60s arguably shaped the music of the decade.
King’s personal discography boasts 25 studio albums. She has received four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for her second album “Tapestry.” Little did she know when she named that career-defining record the title would someday also perfectly describe the rich and colorful music legacy she’s woven over the course of her highly decorated career.
‘60s Songwriting Sensation
Carole King was born Carol Klein in New York City in 1942. Her passion for music ignited at an early age when she started piano lessons at just four-years-old and was an accomplished pianist by age 10. She began writing songs in her early teens and dated future pop star Neil Sedaka (who wrote his hit “Oh Carol!” about her) in high school. King and Sedaka both attended Queens College, where they met Paul Simon and the man who would become King’s first husband and legendary songwriting partner Gerry Goffin.
Goffin and King emerged as a dynamic songwriting duo whose credits for other artists dominated ‘60s charts. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles was their first No. 1 hit and notably became the first No. 1 hit for an African-American girl group. A stream of hits followed, including Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby” Little Eva’s “The Locomotion,” The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof, The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day” and dozens more, including Aretha Franklin’s iconic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
Solo Artistry and Tapestry
It made perfect sense for such a strong female force in songwriting like Carole King to pursue a solo recording career. But, King didn’t realize what a huge impact her second studio album “Tapestry” was going to make then and for generations to come. Its indelible tracks grabbed everyone’s attention when it succinctly captured the innermost feelings and thoughts that echoed those of her listeners. Songs like “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away” conveyed longing and sadness with a palpable ache and “You’ve Got a Friend” (which later became a chart-topping hit for James Taylor) arguably became one of the most enduring friendship anthems of all time.
King made history in 1972 by becoming the first female writer/artist to win the top three Grammy’s for Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year for “Tapestry.” She was also the first female artist to hold the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 15 consecutive weeks and “Tapestry“ stayed on the charts in some form for six years. King was highly respected by her peers and other artists recorded versions of some of “Tapestry’s” tracks including Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, and Roberta Flack.
Recent Work and Notable Accolades
In 2007, King reunited with longtime friend and collaborator James Taylor and embarked on the critically-acclaimed Troubadour Reunion World Tour. She has also collaborated with Mariah Carey, and toured with Mary J. Blige and Fergie. In 2012 she published her riveting, “New York Times” best-selling autobiography “A Natural Woman: A Memoir.” King’s prolific life and musical catalog has also been celebrated in the brilliant Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
The Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy Hall of Fame Inductee is also a Grammy Trustee Award and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. In 2013, she received one of the highest honors in her field being awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Overall, Carole King’s brilliant body of work and amazing lifetime achievements only underscore the argument that no other female artist has impacted the musical landscape across multiple generations like the 17-year-old musical ingénue from New York City who eventually evolved into an evocative living legend of song.
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Lori Melton is a freelance writer. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.