Kim Carnes' distinctively raspy, throaty voice graced one of the biggest hits of the '80s, the Grammy-winning smash "Bette Davis Eyes," which spent nine weeks on top of the Billboard charts in 1981. Carnes was born in Los Angeles on July 20, 1945, and during the '60s began writing songs for other artists while performing in local clubs and as a session vocalist. In 1966, she joined the popular folk group the New Christy Minstrels for a time, later leaving (along with husband/songwriting partner Dave Ellingson) to form the duo Kim & Dave. Thanks in part to her folk-music background, Carnes landed an acting role in the 1967 film C'Mon, Let's Live a Little, a folk-themed musical with a staunchly anti-radical viewpoint.
In 1971, Carnes' "Sing Out for Jesus" was recorded by blues legend Big Mama Thornton for the soundtrack of the film Vanishing Point, which also featured Kim & Dave's performance of the song "Nobody Knows." This success landed Carnes a solo deal with Amos, the label on which the soundtrack had appeared. She recorded her first album, Rest On Me, in 1972, but it did nothing, and, frustrated by the predominance of outside writers on the record, Carnes departed, eventually signing with A&M. Her self-titled label debut was issued in 1975 and produced her first chart hit, the self-penned duet with Gene Cotton "You're a Part of Me." 1976's Sailin' and 1979's St. Vincent's Court (her first album for EMI) also produced minor singles, but her big break came in 1980, when former-New Christy Minstrel bandmate Kenny Rogers invited her to duet with him on "Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer." The song was a hit, and the accompanying concept album Gideon featured nothing but Carnes and Ellingson compositions. Thanks to the exposure, Carnes scored her first solo Top Ten hit later that year with a cover of the Miracles' "More Love," from her album Romance Dance.
Carnes seemed poised for success, and took extra pains with her next album, Mistaken Identity. One of the songs selected was "Bette Davis Eyes," a tune co-written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and former folk-rocker Jackie DeShannon (who had appeared with Carnes in C'Mon, Let's Live a Little). Convinced to record the song with an atmospheric new arrangement, Carnes took "Bette Davis Eyes" to the top of the charts for nine weeks; it became the biggest hit of the year, and later won Grammys for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Despite this major breakthrough, Carnes found it difficult to follow her hit; the subsequent singles from Mistaken Identity failed to make even the Top 20. She scored minor hits with songs from 1982's Voyeur and 1983's Cafe Racers, and in 1985 she became the first artist to be on the charts simultaneously with solo ("Invitation to Dance"), duo ("Make No Mistake, He's Mine," recorded with Barbra Streisand), and trio ("What About Me," with Kenny Rogers and James Ingram) performances. That same year, she scored her last Top 20 hit with "Crazy in the Night," from Barking at Airplanes. 1986's Light House flopped, and for 1988's View from the House, she returned to the folk and country music of her earlier years. With the indifferent response to her continued singing career, Carnes began to concentrate more on her songwriting, still collaborating frequently with Ellingson. She began to place more and more material with major-label country artists, and moved to Nashville in 1994 to be where the action was. ~ Steve Huey