Carole King: Famous, Yet ‘Haimische’

November 25, 2012 4:08 am 0 comments

Carole King, accompanied by Jon Carroll on the keyboard, and Arlen Schierbaum on the guitar, sings for about 1,500 sailors and Marines aboard the USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean. Photo: Linda D. Kozaryn.

Singer-songwriter Carole King is best known for numerous hits and four Grammy awards, but what is perhaps not as widely recognized is the Jewish familial backdrop for her life and work. Part of that can be traced back to her grandmother, Sarah Besmogin.

“When 12-year old Sarah looked through a grand parlor window and saw a girl her own age playing a piano, that image became a symbol of the wealth and accomplishment to which she could never aspire,” King writes in A Natural Woman, her new memoir which came out this year. “She resolved instead to become an aishes chail. Loosely translated, an aishes chail is ‘a woman of worth, a virtuous woman.’”

Born Carol Klein to Jewish parents in Manhattan, King is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Many continue to pay her tribute for her influence on music and songwriting. One of them is Jimmy Webb.

In 2011, Webb replaced the late Hal David (who passed away last month in Los Angeles) as the chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Songwriters Hall of Fame is an arm of the National Academy of Popular Music and was founded in 1969 by songwriter Johnny Mercer and music publishers Abe Olman and Howie Richmond. The Hall of Fame holds workshops and showcases and provides scholarships to promising songwriters.

“As a young writer I was a follower of Carole,” Webb told JNS.org. “She is phenomenally talented and unique. Her songs are serenely beautiful expressions of the positive side of the human spirit. Her song ‘Up on the Roof’ is transcendent. I was very much influenced by her. Her songs have a clear, logical path to them. She’s a master storyteller.”

In a recent interview with Tavis Smiley for his show on public television, King talked about family influences on her life and work.

“The first piece of furniture in my parents’ home was a piano,” she told Smiley. “So it was there, and I evidently have some sort of gift with it, so that was an opportunity. My parents were both supportive, exposed me to the arts, to music. I lived in New York City. I technically lived in Brooklyn with access to New York City, and my mother brought me to shows, Broadway shows. So I think living in New York was a world of opportunity that maybe is not as readily available to others who grow up in more rural communities. That is not to say that that stops them. They just have to travel farther.”

Webb said King’s songs changed American music.

“She helped to create another hallmark in the history of American music when she put out the album Tapestry,” Webb told JNS.org. “She sang her songs in her own voice, and it was striking because no one had ever done that before in the songwriting world.”

In her book Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation, author Sheila Weller counts “haimische” (homey) among King’s attributes.

“Carole was haimische,” writes Weller. “A sincere, homey person who does the right thing, who you felt you’d known all your life.”

An award-winning songwriter in his own right, Webb—who wrote “Up, Up and Away” and “Wichita Lineman,” which Glen Campbell made into a hit—told JNS.org that King was innovative in her choice of subjects.

“She also was one to, early on, tap into sociological issues like in the song she wrote, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow,’” he said. “She went past the obvious themes of love and sex. She was way ahead of her time.”

King was a proficient pianist by the age of four, according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame website. As a teenager, she recorded demos, sang backup, helped arrange recording sessions, and wrote and recorded a few singles that went nowhere. Then, while a student at Queens College, she met her future writing partner and husband, Gerry Goffin. King’s 1960 single “Oh! Neil,” which she recorded, was a riposte to her friend Neil Sedaka’s song “Oh! Carol.” It was not a hit, but it impressed Don Kirshner, who signed the King/Goffin team to his Aldon Music Empire.

Their first success arrived in 1960, when the Shirelles recorded “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” This began a seven-year string of chart-toppers, including “Take Good Care Of My Baby” (Bobby Vee), “Up On the Roof” (The Drifters), “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva), “One Fine Day” (The Chiffons), “Go Away Little Girl” (Steve Lawrence), “Don’t Bring Me Down” (The Animals), “I’m Into Something Good” (Herman’s Hermits), “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (The Monkees), and “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin).

In 1970, King released her first solo album, “Writer.” She followed that in 1971 with “Tapestry,” which included “You’ve Got a Friend” (also recorded by James Taylor), “It’s Too Late,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” and her renditions of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The album stayed in Billboard’s Hot 100 for six years and sold 24 million copies.

In 1988 King starred in the off-Broadway production “A Minor Incident,” and in 1994 she portrayed Mrs. Johnstone on Broadway in “Blood Brothers.” Today, King lives on a ranch in Idaho, and largely restricts her live appearances to environmental fundraisers.

Jewish traditions, however, remain a part of her life. In her memoir, King wrote that in the late 20th century the melodies of many traditional Jewish prayers were being modernized.

“I was not a fan of the major key version of the Chanukah prayer,” she writes. “In 2011, at the suggestion of my daughter Louise I recorded the traditional Chanukah prayer with its traditional melody. Louise arranged the prayer into song form, then she and her son sang it with me. The last vocal we hear on the track is then-eight-year old Hayden singing, ‘L’hadlik neir shel Chanukah.’ Tears come to my eyes every time I hear the prayer of our ancestors marching forward to future generations through my grandson, my daughter and me.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s memoir follows the classic form, telling the story of his years at the Pentagon during the Bush and Obama administrations. He focuses on what he did and experienced personally as secretary, neither writing a broad policy treatise nor recounting the entire history of the administrations in which he served. In so doing, Gates provides penetrating insights about the inner workings of US national security decision-making. Had I been George W. Bush, I would [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z by Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin (Pavilion Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 2013) Sophocles said, “What people believe prevails over truth,” Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z is ideal for the arm chair reader who would like a basic grasp of the terms used in the mainstream media’s presentation of the Arab-Israeli situation as is reported today. This is a book whose time has come. This is a book where the reader gains a [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    JNS.org – On Thursday, audiences around the country can feel what it is like to be William Shatner, the Jewish actor best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek.” Shatner’s one-man show “Shatner’s World”—which was on Broadway and toured Canada, Australia, and the United States—will be presented in nearly 700 movie theaters nationwide for one night only on April 24. Sponsored by Fathom Events and Priceline.com (for whom Shatner has famously served as a pitchman), [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.