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Carole King’s Greenwich Village Connections

The 2024 Grammy Awards set a new record for female artists: women won all nine of the top telecast categories. This incredible milestone in music could never have been reached without the trail blazed by Carole King. Heralded as the “Queen of Rock” and the “greatest songwriter of all time,” King is a four-time Grammy winner, and in 1971 was the first-ever woman to win the “Song of the Year” category.

Carole King with her four Grammy Awards in 1971. Image courtesy Getty Images.

Born Carol Jean Klein in Manhattan on February 9th, 1942, she spent much of her childhood in Brooklyn. Her mother began teaching her to play the piano at the age of three, and at four years old it was discovered that she had perfect pitch. In high school, she changed her name to Carole King, and began writing music and recording demos. Having skipped directly from kindergarten to second grade due to her aptitude in both English and math, she entered Queens College a year earlier than most. She soon met Gerry Goffin, who would become her co-writer and first husband. They married when she was just 17, and over the next decade, wrote numerous songs together, more than two dozen of which were chart hits.

Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Image from https://songbook1.wordpress.com/

The Goffin and King song, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” recorded by the Shirelles in 1960, became the first No. 1 hit by a Black girls’ group. This prompted Goffin and King to give up their day jobs and dedicate more time to songwriting. In 1968, they divorced and King moved to Los Angeles, joining the community of musicians who had settled in Laurel Canyon, including the likes of Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Cass Elliot, and many others. King continued to have one of the most prolific careers in popular music, both as a songwriter and a recording artist. Her most well-known and celebrated album, Tapestry, topped the U.S. album chart for 15 weeks in 1971 and remained on the charts for more than six years.

Though she never lived in Greenwich Village, Carole King has written for and been associated with many artists who did. Especially in those early years of her career, while living in New York City, King often performed in the Village, participating in the folk-rock movement of the 1960s.

Here are just a few of the Village places and people with which King was associated:

The Night Owl Cafe

James Taylor and Carole King at the A&M Records studio in 1971. Photo from NPR, courtesy the artists.

The Night Owl Cafe was one of the premier showcases for up-and-coming musical talent in Greenwich Village at the time. Located at 118 West 3rd Street, between MacDougal Street and 6th Avenue, it was there that King first met James Taylor in 1967. They later reconnected in Laurel Canyon, and became longtime collaborators and friends.

The Bitter End

The Bitter End, still open today at 147 Bleecker Street.

Just like many other singer-songwriters of the day, Carole King would sometimes perform her own music at The Bitter End in the 1960s. There is a pivotal scene in the biographical Broadway show Beautiful: The Carole King Musical where King sings her song “It’s Too Late” at the Bitter End. Initially, she is hesitant to perform, expressing that she is a songwriter, not a singer.

The Red Lion

The Red Lion is also still open today, just two doors down from The Bitter End, at 151 Bleecker Street.

According to a New York Times article from April 5, 1989, in 1987-88 Carole King returned to New York City to act in a play. Her co-star, Paul Hipp, was also a musician and had a recurring gig at The Red Lion on Bleecker Street, which he convinced King to join from time to time. She was just learning how to play the electric guitar, and as she put it, “usually I would sit in unannounced, and I often went unrecognized. Bleecker Street was one of the places I used to hang out in the 60’s and early 70’s, and I found it hasn’t changed much. It’s still full of very talented and very hungry people.”

Maurice Sendak

A still from the television special, “Really Rosie.”

One of Carole King’s more quirky collaborations was with one-time Village resident Maurice Sendak (check out our Village Voices tribute to his Greenwich Village home!). The musical Really Rosie, with lyrics by Sendak and music by King, was based on several of Sendak’s books that he had written and illustrated while living at 29 West 9th Street. The musical aired as an animated television special in 1975; though the plot centers around a young girl, King ended up voicing the titular character after they had difficulty finding a child actor who could fulfill the role. It’s a fanciful story of a slew of kids spending a summer’s day in Brooklyn–where both King and Sendak grew up.

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