Dana & Karen Kletter

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North Carolina-based identical twins Dana and Karen Kletter only perform sporadically, but their perfectly complementary voices sound so unassailably right together that at times their harmonies sound…
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North Carolina-based identical twins Dana and Karen Kletter only perform sporadically, but their perfectly complementary voices sound so unassailably right together that at times their harmonies sound like one voice. Their unusual, arty tunes, heavily influenced by both classical and Eastern European folk music, are reminiscent of Kate Bush's later work, but engagingly unique.

The Kletter sisters were born in Baltimore in 1960, the only children of a Hungarian-born mother who had survived Auschwitz and a father with ties to organized crime who spent several years of his daughters' childhood on the lam. Raised in New York City and Long Island with their mother's Eastern European refugee family, Dana and Karen developed a fondness for the folk music of their mother's homeland. (The sisters would do a version of the traditional Yiddish folk song "Raisins and Almonds" on their first duo album, 1998's Dear Enemy). In 1987, Dana resettled in Chapel Hill, NC, where she had attended college, and started a vocal trio, blackgirls, with Eugenia Lee and Hollis Brown. Their two albums, 1989's Procedure and 1991's Happy, had the instant folk credibility of being produced by the legendary Joe Boyd (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, etc.), but Kletter's Eastern European-influenced art folk didn't always blend with Lee and Brown's more conventional material.

Karen, who had moved down to North Carolina to attend grad school, sang backing vocals on both blackgirls albums. Immediately recognizing the sisters' vocal blend, Boyd suggested they do a duo album. Several songs were written, but Dana's continuing obligations with blackgirls made the sisters put the project on hold for several years. In the meantime, while Karen wrote a doctoral thesis on anti-Semitism in medieval Europe, Dana left blackgirls and, somewhat improbably, was hired to sing backing vocals on Hole's 1994 breakthrough Live Through This. Dana's voice is mixed about as loud as Courtney Love's throughout the album, most notably on the cover of Young Marble Giants' "Credit in the Straight World" and the hit single "Doll Parts," a fact that had many folks chortling during the great Courtney Love backlash of 1995-1996.

The Hole gig did help get Dana's new band, Dish, signed to the major Interscope Records, but their two releases, 1994's Mabel Sagittarius and 1995's Boneyard Beach, failed to attract much attention. Back home in North Carolina after Dish broke up, Dana and Karen began singing together again. While appearing in coffeehouses and at local benefit concerts with ex-Dish multi-instrumentalist Sara Bell under the name Dear Enemy, the sisters finished writing the songs that would make up their first album. Boyd signed the duo to his Hannibal label and produced their debut album, 1998's Dear Enemy. The album received largely rapturous reviews and quickly developed a cult following, but Dana and Karen Kletter, absorbed in their own careers as a journalist and teacher, respectively, have turned their music into an occasional sideline.