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Helen Welch Celebrates the Carpenters with 'Superstar'

Susan Bestul

Helen Welch has long been a fan of the Carpenters, but she didn't realize until recently how many fans of the 70s vocal group are still out there today.

One night while singing at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights, she said the audience was more interested in chatting than listening to her perform.

Helen Welch singing
Susan Bestul

So Welch decided to break out a song she'd never performed before: the Carpenters' "I Won't Last a Day Without You."

Less than a minute into the song the audience grew silent.

"You could hear a pin drop. I will never forget it, and at the end of the song there was this rapturous applause. People went nuts," Welch said.

Helen Welch performs with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra
Howard Perl
Helen Welch performs with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra

Her idea to record an album and create a show around the Carpenters' songs was confirmed the next day when she played a biker bar and the same thing happened.

"Not only that, they all sang along," she said.

The Northeast Ohio singer is now sharing her re-imagined renditions of Carpenter classics on her new CD, "Superstar," and performs a show at Playhouse Square this Sunday.

Welch believes it was listening to the late Karen Carpenter's voice as a girl that gave her the courage to sing. Both she and Carpenter sing in a lower range as altos.

"I would sing along with Karen and I would think, 'Well I can do this. But if I try going to singing lessons and singing Italian arias I feel like a round peg in a square hole,'" she said.

The Carpenters "Horizon" album cover from 1975

What made the Carpenters unique for Welch was how they stood out in the late 60s and early 70s.

"They were making music at a time when the music business was changing. The Beatles broke up. It was the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Carpenters?  They filled this romantic love song gap that was missing at the time," she said.

Helen Welch performs "Superstar - The Songs. The Stories. The Carpenters" Sunday, March 31 at 3:30 p.m. in the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square.

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Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.