The Endearing Story Behind Carole King’s Piano (Which is Headed Off to the Auction Block)

The singer-songwriter’s 1923 Steinway grand is to be offered in New York on April 20, but there's so much more to the story.

Fans of Grammy Award–winning singer-songwriter Carole King will have a chance to own a bit of music-making history on April 20, when her 1923 Steinway Model M grand hits the block at Christie’s in New York. “The 5-foot 7-inch piano was gifted to King in 1971—3 years after her move from New York to L.A.’s Laurel Canyon neighborhood—by the parents of her then husband, noted studio musician Charles Larkey,” says Becky MacGuire, head of the house’s Exceptional Sale. “Larkey’s parents, Lewis and Alaine, had themselves inherited the instrument from his maternal grandparents, Jacob and Pauline Cohen, who had purchased it new from Steinway in New York more than four decades earlier.”

King composed some of her most memorable hits on this instrument, including “Sweet Seasons” (1971) and “Been to Canaan” (1972), which were written in the living room of her Appian Way home. “It was an exciting time for the music industry in Los Angeles, and King’s house was often frequented by fellow musicians James Taylor, Graham Nash, and Cat Stevens, who lived nearby,” says MacGuire. This period also proved pivotal in King’s career: In 1972 she received four Grammys, including Album of the Year, for Tapestry, which has since sold over 25 million copies worldwide. The piano appeared on the cover of King’s best-selling album Music.

Brooks Arthur, production engineer on the demos King made with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, once said of the songwriter, “She always had a grand vision in her head of a song. And when she sat down at the piano, it was drop-dead great. Oh, my God—everything sounded like a hit!”

In 1977, King relocated to an Idaho ranch, where she built a private recording studio; the professionally maintained piano has been there ever since. When asked why King, 76, is selling the instrument, MacGuire answers, “She is simply downsizing.”

Carole King record

Carole King record cover art  Photo: Courtesy Jim McCrary, Courtesy Lou Adler, Ode Records

Keys to Success

1923

The Model M is crafted in New York by Steinway & Sons, which notes that the piano is prized for its “rich tone, responsive action, and manageable size.” The piano is purchased new by Jacob and Pauline Cohen, parents of Alaine Cohen.

1971

The Model M is given to Carole King and her second husband, Charles Larkey, by his parents, Lewis and Alaine Cohen Larkey.

1972

King wins four Grammys, including Album of the Year, for Tapestry.

1977

King moves to a ranch in Idaho and takes the piano with her. She installs the instrument in the personal recording studio she has built on the property.

2018

Christie’s offers this storied instrument at its April 20 Exceptional Sale in New York, where it carries an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.

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