Curley was born into a musical family in North Carolina, USA, and attended the North Carolina School of the Arts. He subsequently studied with Virgil Fox, Robert Elmore, George Thalben-Ball and Arthur Poister. His long-time friend and confidant Robert Noehren was another noted influence. Curley developed his performance style in the manner of Virgil Fox, with respect to popularising classical organ music popular to a wider audience, which included his arrangements and transcriptions of pieces from other classical genres.
Curley was the first classical organist to perform a solo organ recital at the White House, and also played before several European heads of state. He toured extensively throughout the world, and earned the marketing nickname "the Pavarotti of the Organ". he was one of only a few concert organists worldwide who supported themselves exclusively by giving recitals, concerts and master classes, without any supplement from teaching or church position.
Curley used a substantial Allen touring organ where the venue lacked an instrument of sufficient scope to support his repertoire. He recorded commercially for various labels such as RCA, ProArte, Rediffusion and Decca International. He participated in several 'Battle of the Organs' concerts, and his final such concert was in June 2012 at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral with his Ian Tracey.
Curley served as patron for numerous music societies as well as for the newly formed British Academy of Music. He was involved in organ design and construction and served as advisor to numerous clients, including Melbourne City Council (Australia), and The Cube, Shiroishi (Japan). His autobiography In The Pipeline was published by HarperCollins in 1998.
- Principals Unshackled (early 1970s), recorded at Fountain Street Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Sculpture in Sound (1970s), recorded at Atlantis Sound Studios in Decatur, Georgia
- Carlo Curley Plays Bach (1978), recorded at Vangede Church, Copenhagen, Denmark (RCA)
- Popular Organ Pieces (1984)
- The Emperor's Fanfare (1990), Decca (on Argo label)
- Brightly Shining (1991), Decca (on Argo label)
- Organ Imperial (1991), Decca (on Argo label)
- Organ Fantasia (1992), Decca (on Argo label)
- Bach Favourite Organ Works (1992), Universal
- Dueling Organs (1993), Proarte - with Lyn Larsen
- The Finest Hour (1993), Proarte
- The World of Carlo Curley (1994), Decca
- Bach Great Organ Works (1995), Decca
- Inaugural Concert (1997)
- Toccata - Organ Favourites (1998), Decca
- Concert Favorites (1998)
- A Genesis in Harmony (2003)
- Organ Imperial (1993), Decca
- The Carlo Curley Classic Collection volumes 1, 2 and 3 (2009)
- Black, Fergus (1989) "Carlo Curley", Glasgow Herald, 7 October 1989, p. 4, retrieved 2010-11-06
- The International Who's Who in Music 2003: Classical, Routledge, ISBN 978-1-85743-174-2, p. 166-7
- Helen Brown (2010-07-05). "Legendary organist Carlo Curley returns to Dundee". The Courier. Retrieved 2014-11-01.
- William Dart (2010-09-06). "Concert Review: Carlo Curley, Auckland Town Hall". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2010-11-06.