Kartner started his singing career at the age of eight, by winning a local festival. He lived with his family in Amsterdam and worked in a chocolate factory.
Kartner worked as a promoter and producer at record label Dureco with Annie de Reuver, who he played with in Duo X. Together with the band Corry & de Rekels he sold over 1 million records in the 1960s.
He created his well-known alter ego, Father Abraham, after writing a Dutch Carnival song, Father Abraham had seven sons. He at first used a fake beard, but a real beard replaced this and would remain his trademark along with his bowler hat.
With Wilma Landkroon he sang the Dutch 1971 number one hit single Zou het erg zijn, lieve opa.
In 1975, Kartner scored his second biggest hit, Het kleine café aan de haven ("The little café by the harbour"). This song has since been covered over 250 times in various languages.
English cover versions include The Little Cafe By The Harbour by Engelbert Humperdinck, My Favourite Cafe On The Harbour by Audrey Landers and The Red Rose Café, done by Demis Roussos as well as The Fureys. In French the song was recorded as Le café de la Rue d'Amérique by Mireille Mathieu and Le café des trois Colombes by Joe Dassin, and in German as Die kleine Kneipe by Peter Alexander.
In May 1977, Kartner was asked to make a promotional song about The Smurfs. The record company pressed only 1,000 copies of the single, called "The Smurf Song", since they were unsure about the single's success. However, they were all sold within one day at a Schlager festival. After a repress, 400,000 singles were quickly sold. A full Smurfs album was then created, which also climbed the charts, with 500,000 copies sold. The album was released in several dozen countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Sweden, and in various different languages. The album scored a number one hit in 16 countries. Subsequently, Kartner released other Smurf-themed albums, again in various countries and languages, such as Ga je mee naar Smurfenland (Dutch) and Vater Abraham im Land der Schlümpfe (German). In all, Kartner's Smurf works have sold around 25 million copies.
In 1981 Kartner recorded a song about Wuppies (Weepuls), Wij zijn de wuppies ("We are the Weepuls"), but this did not repeat the success of his Smurfs hit.
Kartner wrote the music for the opening and closing credits on the Japanese cartoon adaption of the 1990 TV series, Moomin. He also sang a song about politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and wrote "Ik ben verliefd (Shalalie)", the Dutch entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2010.
Kartner won the BUMA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
Kartner lives in Breda with his wife Annie.