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Karen carpenter's accent

lily-anne

karen carpenter's unrecognized daughter
Thread Starter
hi, i just registered here and idk if i'm doing it right, but i have a question. i've noticed that karen was always using a slight southern accent, both singing and talking. and i could hear a little british accent on the song "intermission" too. now i'm curious how she got those accents when she lived in california and connecticut ? and i don't think richard had any accent, so why did karen had one? 😃
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Hi Lily Anne,

Welcome to the forum! I'm sure a more experienced person could answer your question better than I could, but Karen had two different "accents" -- her speaking accent, which you probably perceive as the slight southern accent, and her singing accent, which you probably perceive as the little British accent. With regard to her singing accent, Karen sang with what is called a "mid-Atlantic" or a "trans-Atlantic" accent, which was more common in American speech before the 1970s (particularly in high-class/highly educated segments of society), but has almost completely fallen out of use. However, I think mid-Atlantic English is still the preferred pronunciation of English when sung, particularly in formal settings (choirs, etc.). The R sound is mostly non-rhotic (i.e. not like how most Americans say star or world). You'll hear this in "Top of the World," where both Karen and Richard don't emphasize the R in "world," or in "Close to You," how Karen says "hair" and "stars." The R is very light compared to how most Americans would say "hair" or "stars" in regular spoken English.

However, the mid-Atlantic/trans-Atlantic accent has some American features too, particularly in the vowels. If you want to hear a classic mid-Atlantic accent, you could listen to Katharine Hepburn or Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some entertaining mixing happened in some cinema--Harold and Maude, for instance, has many characters with typical American accents (to mark them as "normal" people), who talk with people with mid-Atlantic accents (to mark them as conservative or high-class); same with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (from 1971)--you'll notice that Charlie and Grandpa Joe have typical American accents, but Charlie's mom (an American actor, Diana Sowle) sings in a sort of mid-Atlantic way. Other characters have English and/or mid-Atlantic accents to mark their higher class/status.

I hope this kind of helps. When I was in music class in school, our music teacher had to re-teach us how to pronounce words in a pseudo-mid-Atlantic way; it's supposed to be the most neutral way of singing that can be understood by both Americans and Brits, since it shares features from both accents.

With regard to "Intermission," I suspect the Carpenters chose to really play up the British-sounding words "back" vs. "bathroom" (see "trap-bath split") because intermission refers to the opera, which was a high-society function back in the day. :)

Best,
Cuyler
 
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Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
The psychiatrist in this scene of Harold and Maude is American, but he is speaking with a mid-Atlantic accent, most likely to mark that he is highly educated:

 

moog

Well-Known Member
Singers in American choirs, as the Carpenters were, are often taught to sing in British-esque accents for more sustained tones. They used this to comic effect in “Intermission.”

(In contrast, early British rock singers like the Beatles emulated their American rock and roll heroes by singing in American accents!)

Karen’s singing voice is general American with a few hints of British singer Matt Munro, as Richard pointed out (Matt himself generally sang with a Frank Sinatra-style American accent). For country songs like “Jambalaya,” she fakes a bit of a Southern twang.

Her speaking voice is Connecticut-to-California, as you’d expect, with what feels to Ohioan me like Midwestern thrown in with hard short “a” sounds and hard Rs (rhotic). Maybe she picked that up from her father, who lived there for a time.
 
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Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Singers in American choirs, as the Carpenters were, are often taught to sing in British-esque accents for more sustained tones.
My music teacher actually used Karen as an exemplar of proper choir pronunciation. Here in Hawaiʻi, most people say "chris-miss" for "Christmas," so she played "Merry Christmas, Darling" for us and told us to pay attention to how Karen pronounces "Christmas" very clearly--"Chris(t)-mas"--and told us that we were to emulate that when we would sing, because even if it sounded weird to our ears, collectively this type of pronunciation would be much easier on the audience's ears.
 

JohnFB

Well-Known Member
Some here have mentioned that she sang certain words in a few songs with some kind of accent (maybe as moog says, English) - I never really heard them - in fact, I never noticed any accent, which, I guess, means that we had the same accent....but, I thought the explanation by @Cuyler was thorough and enlightening...
 

Another Son

Well-Known Member
Another thing to consider is that Karen and Richard’s father was British. Although he moved to America at fourteen, from memory, after also living in China, and probably spoke with an American accent by the time Karen and Richard came into being, there were no doubt certain words that he still would have spoken with a British accent and so may have passed those pronunciations on to Karen and Richard.

Mostly, though, I think that the explanations above explain it all.

To someone who has never visited America, like me, Karen and Richard just sound like they speak / spoke with ‘an American accent’.

When they sing, though, as already said, you notice that they don’t sing some words with what you would think of as an American accent, whereas they do with most.

As Cuyler suggested, Richard is very aware of vowel sounds and how they come across - the tone they create. He has discussed in interviews the difference in vowel sounds that are best for holding notes at the end of phrases, or for high or low tones. No doubt, Karen and Richard, no doubt, made conscious decisions, at times, about how to pronounce words, based on this knowledge.
 

TimeWarp

Member
Some here have mentioned that she sang certain words in a few songs with some kind of accent (maybe as moog says, English) - I never really heard them - in fact, I never noticed any accent, which, I guess, means that we had the same accent....but, I thought the explanation by @Cuyler was thorough and enlightening...
As a Canadian, I notice an accent when she speaks, but not when she sings.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
As a Canadian, I notice an accent when she speaks, but not when she sings.
Yeah! That's the beauty of that "singing accent" -- I'm thinking of singers from all different genres, but by and large most singers, both American and British, that I can think of, all share similar features: less rhotic R, more American vowel inventory (but less dramatic than Standard American; for the vowels, think of the O sound when Karen sings "only" and "alone" in "Only Yesterday," and for the R, think of "after" and "yesterday" in "Only Yesterday.") Today, I think the "singing pronunciation" has kind of fallen out of mainstream music, by and large, but it used to be the standard throughout 1970s. Even Don Henley dropped the rhotic R when singing (but Glenn Frey, to give it that country flair, played up that rhotic American R, like in "Take It Easy").

It's interesting; if an American were to speak "Only Yesterday," the accent would be much different from Karen's; most likely, the Standard American English speaker (like what you'd hear on a news broadcast) would have a strong rhotic R, which does sound more refined because it is a kind of mid-Atlantic accent made for singing--it incorporates various aspects from Received Pronunciation, but isn't British; similarly, it incorporates various aspects from General American English, but it isn't totally American either.

I wonder if British speakers think that Karen sounds totally American when she sings, or if they pick up on any of the RP borrowings in her pronunciation!

(Ironically, that makes me think about how, to give some of his songs a more "country" feel, Elton John really emphasized the R in some of Bernie Taupin's songs; so, even though he's English, the way he sang it really sounded American, and therefore, sounded "country"!)
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Another thing to consider is that Karen and Richard’s father was British. Although he moved to America at fourteen, from memory, after also living in China, and probably spoke with an American accent by the time Karen and Richard came into being, there were no doubt certain words that he still would have spoken with a British accent and so may have passed those pronunciations on to Karen and Richard.

Mostly, though, I think that the explanations above explain it all.

To someone who has never visited America, like me, Karen and Richard just sound like they speak / spoke with ‘an American accent’.

When they sing, though, as already said, you notice that they don’t sing some words with what you would think of as an American accent, whereas they do with most.

As Cuyler suggested, Richard is very aware of vowel sounds and how they come across - the tone they create. He has discussed in interviews the difference in vowel sounds that are best for holding notes at the end of phrases, or for high or low tones. No doubt, Karen and Richard, no doubt, made conscious decisions, at times, about how to pronounce words, based on this knowledge.
Yes, this! The vowel sounds are undoubtedly American (with at least one exception being "Intermission" with that trap/bath split, which you can hear if you compare how Karen and Richard say "back" and "bathroom"), but they're much less dramatic than how most Americans say the vowels. Karen's vowels were pretty much perfect and consistent, imho.

It is actually interesting, I'm trying to listen to different Carpenters songs to hear how Karen pronounced her Rs, and even in the country ones like "Jambalaya" or "Top of the World" or "Sweet Sweet Smile," her ending Rs are *relatively* muted. She definitely emphasizes the A in guitar over the R in "Jambalaya," and even the R in "crawfish" isn't as overt as maybe another country singer would sing it.

*EDIT* Sorry, corollary to the former. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, when Karen sings "Jambalaya" live, you can really hear the Rs come out. (Will take a listen now.) But that's what gives it that southern American flair! (Although, ironically, the southern upper crust avoids Rs--think Blanche Devereaux of Golden Girls".)
 

Another Son

Well-Known Member
Interesting. I suppose that the UK didn’t ever have its own distinct country music business, as such, did it? - (am I right?) - although a lot of British artists have obviously excelled in the country rock genre.

There’s obviously a lot of British folk music in which artists use the strong accents of the regions from which the music comes, or their own accents, and then there’s the Gaelic Scottish, Welsh and Irish languages, (UK & Northern Ireland) - plus Republic of Ireland.

There are so many distinct accents in the UK that it’s amazing. I guess they’ve had a LONG time to develop. Personally, I find that you can often detect British accents in the recordings of artists from the UK. I don’t know that I’ve recognised that some UK artists purposely put on an American accent, because, to me, some Scottish accents, and, outside the UK, some Irish accents have similarities to some American accents - with certain words, anyway.

In Australia, there’s certainly a tendency to try to sing with an American accent if you perform in the pop, soul or rock genre, which always annoys me a bit. When the artist speaks, they have an Australian accent and then, when they sing, suddenly, they have a bit of an American accent. (I’m Australian, so I figure that I can express that annoyance).

Maybe, some of the Australian acts who have been more successful worldwide have been truer to their real accents. From memory, Michael Hutchence, of INXS, sings pretty much with a typical Sydneysider Australian accent. Glenn Shorrock, of LRB, I think, doesn’t really ‘put on’ an accent. Colin Hay, of Men At Work, sings with a genuine Australian-Scottish accent, as did Bon Scott, of AC/DC.

Australia does have its own distinct country music business. Interestingly, a lot of Australian country artists sing with a strong Australian accent, rather than using a pseudo American accent. The accent is strong in the local country identity and the localised stories of the songs, so that should be so. In this case, there’s no need to sound American to sound country.

Australia had over two hundred Aboriginal languages and dialects and many of these are still alive, while many of them, unfortunately, are lost. Often, but not always, when Aboriginal pop, rock or country artists sing (in English), they have quite a strong accent that is true to their original language or the area from which they come.

I guess the truth is that a lot of artists, like Karen and Richard, express their mix of backgrounds and their identities through their accents which may vary, or, on the other hand, ‘take on’ accents, depending on what’s generally expected for their particular musical genre, style or aspirations. (Aspirations - for example, an Australian artist hoping to make it in America in the past might have striven to sing with an American accent).

Sorry about the long post. I started with a basic reply and then my thoughts wandered.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Interesting. I suppose that the UK didn’t ever have its own distinct country music business, as such, did it? - (am I right?) - although a lot of British artists have obviously excelled in the country rock genre.

There’s obviously a lot of British folk music in which artists use the strong accents of the regions from which the music comes, or their own accents, and then there’s the Gaelic Scottish, Welsh and Irish languages, (UK & Northern Ireland) - plus Republic of Ireland.

There are so many distinct accents in the UK that it’s amazing. I guess they’ve had a LONG time to develop. Personally, I find that you can often detect British accents in the recordings of artists from the UK. I don’t know that I’ve recognised that some UK artists purposely put on an American accent, because, to me, some Scottish accents, and, outside the UK, some Irish accents have similarities to some American accents - with certain words, anyway.

In Australia, there’s certainly a tendency to try to sing with an American accent if you perform in the pop, soul or rock genre, which always annoys me a bit. When the artist speaks, they have an Australian accent and then, when they sing, suddenly, they have a bit of an American accent. (I’m Australian, so I figure that I can express that annoyance).

Maybe, some of the Australian acts who have been more successful worldwide have been truer to their real accents. From memory, Michael Hutchence, of INXS, sings pretty much with a typical Sydneysider Australian accent. Glenn Shorrock, of LRB, I think, doesn’t really ‘put on’ an accent. Colin Hay, of Men At Work, sings with a genuine Australian-Scottish accent, as did Bon Scott, of AC/DC.

Australia does have its own distinct country music business. Interestingly, a lot of Australian country artists sing with a strong Australian accent, rather than using a pseudo American accent. The accent is strong in the local country identity and the localised stories of the songs, so that should be so. In this case, there’s no need to sound American to sound country.

Australia had over two hundred Aboriginal languages and dialects and many of these are still alive, while many of them, unfortunately, are lost. Often, but not always, when Aboriginal pop, rock or country artists sing (in English), they have quite a strong accent that is true to their original language or the area from which they come.

I guess the truth is that a lot of artists, like Karen and Richard, express their mix of backgrounds and their identities through their accents which may vary, or, on the other hand, ‘take on’ accents, depending on what’s generally expected for their particular musical genre, style or aspirations. (Aspirations - for example, an Australian artist hoping to make it in America in the past might have striven to sing with an American accent).

Sorry about the long post. I started with a basic reply and then my thoughts wandered.
It's funny you mentioned this, because I was actually thinking of Gotye, as well as Olivia Newton-John... very different Australians, but I don't hear an Australian accent in either of them when they sing. Even in the Grease songs, where ONJ was singing, her singing accent is relatively neutral compared to her spoken parts (where very clearly she has a cultivated Australian accent).

It must be funny to hear Aussie country artists singing with a broad accent!

Thanks for sharing your perspective! Love Australia and wish I could've seen more than five days of Sydney!
 

moog

Well-Known Member
Karen’s “O” sound in songs was the Matt Munro influence, as was “close to yew” and such. Richard mentioned that.

I thought Helen Reddy was American until I heard her speaking voice.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Karen’s “O” sound in songs was the Matt Munro influence, as was “close to yew” and such. Richard mentioned that.

I thought Helen Reddy was American until I heard her speaking voice.
Wait, Helen Reddy isn’t American? 😳
 

lily-anne

karen carpenter's unrecognized daughter
Thread Starter
Hi Lily Anne,

Welcome to the forum! I'm sure a more experienced person could answer your question better than I could, but Karen had two different "accents" -- her speaking accent, which you probably perceive as the slight southern accent, and her singing accent, which you probably perceive as the little British accent. With regard to her singing accent, Karen sang with what is called a "mid-Atlantic" or a "trans-Atlantic" accent, which was more common in American speech before the 1970s (particularly in high-class/highly educated segments of society), but has almost completely fallen out of use. However, I think mid-Atlantic English is still the preferred pronunciation of English when sung, particularly in formal settings (choirs, etc.). The R sound is mostly non-rhotic (i.e. not like how most Americans say star or world). You'll hear this in "Top of the World," where both Karen and Richard don't emphasize the R in "world," or in "Close to You," how Karen says "hair" and "stars." The R is very light compared to how most Americans would say "hair" or "stars" in regular spoken English.

However, the mid-Atlantic/trans-Atlantic accent has some American features too, particularly in the vowels. If you want to hear a classic mid-Atlantic accent, you could listen to Katharine Hepburn or Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some entertaining mixing happened in some cinema--Harold and Maude, for instance, has many characters with typical American accents (to mark them as "normal" people), who talk with people with mid-Atlantic accents (to mark them as conservative or high-class); same with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (from 1971)--you'll notice that Charlie and Grandpa Joe have typical American accents, but Charlie's mom (an American actor, Diana Sowle) sings in a sort of mid-Atlantic way. Other characters have English and/or mid-Atlantic accents to mark their higher class/status.

I hope this kind of helps. When I was in music class in school, our music teacher had to re-teach us how to pronounce words in a pseudo-mid-Atlantic way; it's supposed to be the most neutral way of singing that can be understood by both Americans and Brits, since it shares features from both accents.

With regard to "Intermission," I suspect the Carpenters chose to really play up the British-sounding words "back" vs. "bathroom" (see "trap-bath split") because intermission refers to the opera, which was a high-society function back in the day. :)

Best,
Cuyler
wow, thank you so much!
 

Timmerman

Well-Known Member
Wow. As an English teacher (with a European and South African background) I found all parts of this discussion very interesting.
When it comes to Karen's singing accent, the only things that ever jumped out at me were the already mentioned "yew" (especially at the end of "When I fall in love") and the word "down" in "Home for the Holidays" when she sings "From Pennsylvania folks are travellin' down...", especially the second time.
 

JohnFB

Well-Known Member
When it comes to Karen's singing accent, the only things that ever jumped out at me were the already mentioned "yew" (especially at the end of "When I fall in love") and the word "down" in "Home for the Holidays" when she sings "From Pennsylvania folks are travellin' down...", especially the second time.
Well, Karen's sung version of the word "down" in "Home for the Holidays" and "Rainy Days and Mondays" jumps out at me too - in fact, it grabs ahold of me firmly and makes me smile broadly - but this has a lot more to do with the strong, clear, resonant tonal quality she imparts to the word (and others with similar syllables), and far less with any detectable accent of any kind. I don't know for sure if she deliberately emphasized this and other sounds, but if true it could account for or be confused with "accents" in some cases...
 

Another Son

Well-Known Member
It's funny you mentioned this, because I was actually thinking of Gotye, as well as Olivia Newton-John... very different Australians, but I don't hear an Australian accent in either of them when they sing. Even in the Grease songs, where ONJ was singing, her singing accent is relatively neutral compared to her spoken parts (where very clearly she has a cultivated Australian accent).

It must be funny to hear Aussie country artists singing with a broad accent!

Thanks for sharing your perspective! Love Australia and wish I could've seen more than five days of Sydney!
If you're Australian, it just sounds natural to hear country artists sing with an Aussie accent. :) However, some put on an over-the-top accent, just for effect - the way that what's his name... Paul Hogan did for 'Crocodile Dundee'. You can tell that's not his real accent or his natural way of speaking. However, some Australians do naturally have a much broader accent than what he uses for that movie.

There's also a stylistic thing that came in probably around the year 2,000 with a clutch of singers deliberately using an over-emphasised Australian accent. A singer called Missy Higgins springs to mind. There's probably the equivalent in other countries, but you probably don't pick them up unless you're native to those countries.

I agree that a lot of singers adopt a relatively neutral accent when they sing - probably for lots of the reasons mentioned in the posts above. I also agree that Karen, usually, sang in a neutral accent up to a point, and definitely didn't sing hard 'R's' as pronounced as you might expect. However, if the listener wasn't American, they would pick up fairly quickly that she was. For example, within the first couple of words in 'Top of the World', it's clear that she's American. Just in the first section of the first verse, the words that make this clear are:- Such, wonder, everything, I, not and got. Generally, she sings with a reasonably mild accent, though, I believe.

I guess a lot of English-speaking countries now almost don't have a common accent, as there are so many ways of speaking English. For example, in any one country, there are huge populations who originally come from other countries, who speak English in different ways from each other. As long as everyone interacts actively and harmoniously, though, then a new common way of speaking will probably emerge - but that way of speaking will always be gradually changing.
 
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