Born Carole Klein of Brooklyn, NY, a young Carole King broke into the music business by dint of sheer determination, riding the train into New York City to pitch her songs to record company executives. Her early efforts were successful: she recorded her first demos before the tender age of 16. This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when it was quite possible for a successful songwriter to make a living, which King did for a time, most famously with "Locomotion" and "Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow." King cowrote these with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, for Lil' Eva (the couple's babysitter) and The Shirelles, respectively. Both songs went on to be hits for their performers, as did "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", which King, Goffin, and Jerry Wexler wrote for Aretha Franklin and never fully reclaimed.
By the late 1960s, the singer-songwriter trend was in full effect, and to keep up with the likes of Bob Dylan King decided to start recording her own songs. Her first album, Now That Everything's Been Said (The City) was released by Ode Records in 1968, but her first hit, and the recording that established her fame as a singer-songwriter, was 1971's Tapestry. King went on to produce nearly an album a year during the 1970s and early 1980s, switching record companies (to Capitol in 1977, Atlantic in 1981, back to Capitol in 1989, and most recently to Sony/Epic) as her records fluctuated in popularity and success. Her latest album is 1993's Colour of Your Dreams, but recent years have seen a few greatest hits compilations as well as the rerelease of Tapestry. Her 1975 children's album Really Rosie, a collaboration with Where the Wild Things Are creator Maurice Sendak was rereleased on CD in 1999 and I gotta get me a copy (as a little kid, I loved this album, even though the title character often struck me as totally bossy and obnoxious).
Carole King has collaborated with artists like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Eric Clapton, and written prolifically, producing the following extensive body of work:
Carole King's songs are simple, honest, and have a very personal feel. Before her, I had never heard a female artist who sounded like she was singing with her real voice, rather than trying to sound pretty, so in some sense I see her as a direct ancestress of Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, Courtney Love (who recently recorded the King/Goffin tune "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)") and all the Lilith Fair babes. I don't think this is inaccurate, though of course I can't overlook contemporaries like Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and many others who never attained their degree of fame.
Sources: http://www.sonymusic.com/artists/CaroleKing, http://www.warr.org/cking.html, Tapestry liner notes, http://members.home.net/caroleking.
My first "I can't believe no one noded this" writeup! Whee!
Updated 8 November 2002.