By John Grossi | Photos by Monique Kuhlman
Remember the holidays? You put on a “Christmas Classics” playlist on Spotify and decorated cookies with your family. “Merry Christmas Darling” came over the speaker and you began softly singing the words along with the familiar classic.
But did you know the song was written and performed by Long Beach State’s most famous alumni duo, Richard and Karen Carpenter, using lyrics written by their favorite professor (and Karen’s first voice coach) from the Music Department at Long Beach State, Frank Pooler? In fact, they sang that song as part of a 70s-era Christmas Benefit Special in Downtown Long Beach backed by the full CSULB choir and orchestra.
This winter, when it rained relentlessly storm after storm, maybe you caught yourself singing or humming “Rainy days and Mondays... always get me-ee doownn.”
No doubt, certain of the Carpenters’ classics are ingrained in the minds of many Americans, especially those who have been around for 45 years or more. In fact, The Carpenters were the highest selling recording act of the 1970s. But before the Carpenters were “On the Top of the World… looking down on creation,” the brother and sister duo from Downey were music majors at Long Beach State. In fact, their early bands were comprised of all Long Beach State students as the duo mixed and matched band members, in an effort to find the right sound that would lead them to be discovered by a major record label.
Finally, in 1969, A&M Records signed The Carpenters on as the brother-sister duo whose fame lives on today. The two left Long Beach State to pursue a full-time pop music career, but never stopped their involvement nor giving back to the university.
A LASTING TRIBUTE TO LONG BEACH STATE
When Karen died a sudden, tragic death at the age of 32 in 1983, Richard teamed up with the Long Beach State Music Department for a benefit concert at the First Congregational Church in Downtown Long Beach. Around the same time, some in the city began to talk of building a beautiful new Performing Arts center on campus near the Music Department.
Ten years later, the college and the state of California agreed to build a flagship Performing Arts Center on campus next to the Music Department. School officials approached their most famous pop alumnus, Richard Carpenter, to see if he would be willing to help make the vision become a reality. With gratitude in his heart, generosity in his pocket, and a mission to honor the legacy of his pop icon sister, Richard gave a major donation, thus founding the Carpenter Performing Arts Center.
If you have never been, not only is the Carpenter Center an incredible architectural feat and extraordinary theater to watch a live show… the lobby also serves as a museum for the Carpenters’ career. Before shows, during intermissions, or during the week, when shows are not taking place, you can take the “Carpen-tour,” a 15-minute guided tour of the display cases that house many of the duo’s most valuable possessions. Platinum records, original instruments, and photos capturing life-altering moments tell the story of this amazing duo.
THE CARPENTER CENTER TODAY
Megan Kline Crockett, Executive Director of the Carpenter Center, says the vision today is the same as it was 25 years ago, citing that the mission is two-fold. “The Carpenter Center was created (1) as a place where our music students could perform in a professional setting, which they do; and (2) to become a cultural center for our community… a bridge between CSULB and the city of Long Beach.”
Each year Megan and her staff put together a season chock-full of everything: cultural events, speakers, comedians, musical theater, dance, cabaret, musical acts, and even a dog show!
“If you’ve never been here, it really is a special place… a jewel in Long Beach. We wish more people knew about us,” says Megan. “The thing is, every show is really amazing, but we only have these world-class performers for one night. Therefore, there’s no time for the hype to build. You just have to buy a ticket and trust that you’re going to have a great night.”
The Carpenter Center, much like its namesake alumni, is a soft-spoken icon in our city. Next time you are looking for a fun, unique night out, consider going to a live show, sponsored in part by Richard and Karen themselves, who never forgot the impact Long Beach had on their amazing career.
6200 E Atherton St, Long Beach, CA 90815 | www.carpenterarts.org