Curley was born into a musical family in Monroe, North Carolina, US, and attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and by the age of 15 was organist at a large Baptist church in Atlanta, Georgia. 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. At 18, he was director of music at Girard College in Philadelphia. 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.
He was the resident organist at the Alexandra Palace in the 1970s and was the first classical organist to perform a solo organ recital at the White House for President Jimmy Carter. He also played before several European heads of state and toured extensively throughout the world, earning 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 friend Ian Tracey using a Copeman Hart instrument.
He 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. One of his Allen organs is now used in the Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Aldershot in the UK.
The sheet organ music 'Carlo Curley Collection' is available from ChurchOrganWorld and consists of three pieces he often opened his recitals with; his unique arrangements of Largo from the ‘New World Symphony’, ‘Ar Hyd y Nos’ and ‘Eternal Father Strong to Save’.
- 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)
- The Incredible Carlo Curley Plays the Organ of the Royal Albert Hall (1978)
- 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 (7 October 1989). "Carlo Curley". Glasgow Herald. p. 4, Retrieved 6 November 2010.
- "Carlo Curley Obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 17 August 2012.
- The International Who's Who in Classical Music 2009 (25 Revised ed.). Routledge. 8 May 2009. p. 178. ISBN 978-1857435139. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
- Brown, Helen (5 July 2010). "Legendary organist Carlo Curley returns to Dundee". The Courier. Dundee. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
- Dart, William (6 September 2010). "Concert Review: Carlo Curley, 'Auckland Town Hall'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
- "Organist Carlo Curley dies aged 59". Classic FM. 1 August 2012.
- In the Pipeline: Memoirs of an International Concert Organist. HarperCollins. 1998. ISBN 978-0006279907.