Karl King was mentioned in many pages of a 2021 Circus Fanfare

The January / February 2021 issue published by Windjammers Unlimited Inc.
the Circus Music Historical Society

Visit the website of Windjammers Unlimited

Karl King in Jewell

While this is not an attempt to duplicate this issue of Windjammers Circus Fanfare,
the pages dealing with Karl King are seen on this page and are used here with permission.

Jerrold Jimmerson, a member of Windjammers Unlimited, provided much of the material on these pages.

by Jerrold P. Jimmerson, WJU #3118

This article was originally published in the January-February 2021 Circus Fanfare publication of Windjammers Unlimited, Inc.: VOL. 51, NO. 1 - JAN/FEB 2021 - ISSN 1056-1463

There has been much written about the early years of famous composer and conductor Karl Lawrence King (1891-1971) - everything from his birth in Paintersville, Ohio to his growing up in Xenia, Cleveland, and Canton, Ohio to playing in the local bands there and then his nine years playing Euphonium and later conducting several different circus bands.   However, there is so much more to his story after Karl and his wife Ruth left their ‘trouping days’ behind at the close of the 1918 season, which was cut short by the great Spanish flu pandemic that year.

Karl and Ruth returned to their home in Canton to settle down.   King assumed the directorship of the local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Band for what would only be two seasons.   In November, 1919, their only child, Karl Jr., was born.   There were other unforeseen events, however, that were about to take place.

Hundreds of miles away to the West, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, the local Municipal Band was soon going to need a new conductor.   Carl Quist became conductor in 1901, first of the 56th National Guard Band, then the Fort Dodge Military Band which later became the Fort Dodge Municipal Band.   When Quist decided to leave in the middle of the 1920 season, the Fort Dodge group found themselves without a conductor.

The local Commercial Club began a search for a new conductor with a national reputation.   As Thomas J. Hatton states in his book, Hawkeye Glory, this group “promised to raise $5,000 to buy new uniforms and support the band during the 1921 season.   A good share of this would go to pay the director’s salary”.   The field of conductor choices was narrowed to two, both from Ohio, with King being the leading candidate.

Karl King was invited to Fort Dodge, arriving by train on the evening of Saturday, September 11th, 1920.   He met with and rehearsed the local band the next morning.   The program King selected included a mixture of his own compositions (“The Royal Scotch Highlanders March” and “An Autumn Romance”), along with several classical pieces, popular works from musical theater, and vocal solos.   The Monday night concert was an overwhelming success with both the band members and audience alike.   The Fort Dodge Messenger and Chronicle reported that the open air concert “was a triumph from start to finish.”

He returned to Canton right after the concert, and was offered a one-year contract, which he accepted on September 17th 1920.  He would remark many years later that “I’ve been working on that one-year contract all this time.   Somebody forgot to fire me, I guess.”  That one-year contract to conduct the Municipal Band lasted for 50 years until his death on March 31, 1971, about 2 weeks after what was to become his final concert on March 14!

King’s first indoor concert:

Karl King came back to Fort Dodge alone on October 1, 1920, and the band, although small in numbers at 16 players, marched in the “Greater Iowa Day” Parade on October 5th.  King rented a house at 815 Forest Avenue for his wife and infant son, who would join him a month later, along with Ruth’s mother.  Rehearsals began immediately after the parade to recruit more players and begin practicing. The rehearsal schedule was doubled to prepare for the three upcoming indoor concerts in January, February, and March of 1921.

By the time of the Municipal Band’s first indoor concert on January 21, 1921 at the Princess Theater in downtown Fort Dodge, the instrumentation had grown to 35 players.  An advertisement in the local newspaper, The Fort Dodge Messenger for “King and His Band” stated that the “curtain rises at 8:15 Promptly [sic].  Admission 35c and 50c”.

The programming for this first concert quickly established King’s style for the quality and type of music people could expect from his band.   This was basically the format he followed for all the years he led the Fort Dodge Band.



January 21, 1921

Sarasota March……………………………………………………………….Karl L. King

Oberon Overture…………………………………………….…......Carl Maria Von Weber

Cello Solos performed by James Sutton
Scherzo…….Von Goin
Sarabande…G.F. Handel

Operatic Masterpieces……………………………………….………………V.F. Safranek

Melodie…………………………………………………..………………...Rudolph Friml

The Reconciliation Polka...………………………………..………………Riccardo Drigo

The Booster……………………………………………….……………....Mayhew L. Lake

Vocal solos performed by Willis Peterson

Enchanted Night Waltz………………………………………………………Karl L. King

Second Hungarian Fantasia………………………………………Theodore Moses Tobani

This programming style has been continued by the three conductors who have succeeded Karl L. King – W.B. Green (1971-77), Reginald R. Schive (1978-2002), and the current conductor, Jerrold P. Jimmerson (2003-present).   All three of these persons played under King’s baton for several years, and were heavily influenced by his musical style.

It was a somewhat simple format.  Start with a march or two before going to a “heavy”, (an overture or transcription).   Follow that with a waltz or something lighter, then feature the soloist of the day.   After another march, the band would usually play another “heavy” before moving on to some lighter selections – popular songs of the day or from the Broadway stage, then a rag, a galop and other lighter selections before the concluding march.   Once the final note of that march was played, it was time for the National Anthem.

All together, concerts would last one hour, usually no more or no less.  There were no encores.  King would always want to “leave the audience wanting more”.

The Iowa Band Law:

When Karl King arrived in Fort Dodge, he found a city band that was struggling financially.   Whether the funds to maintain a band came from local benefactors and/or civic groups, military budgets, or municipal funds, they were always subject to annual fluctuations based on inflation, available funding, and many other factors.   Fort Dodge was not alone in this issue, since many other Iowa bands were having the same problem.   King set out to establish a more secure and steady form of funding for the band.

In 1921, Karl King, Major George W. Landers, a military band leader in Clarinda IA, and Alonzo Leach, a music store owner in Des Moines IA, lobbied the Iowa Legislature to pass a resolution, House File #479, which is now simply known as the “Iowa Band Law.”   Major Landers wrote the actual bill, which he said would “take the bands out of the charity class”.   This bill was introduced into the Iowa House on February 10th, and, after much discussion and amendments, was eventually passed on a vote of 86-6 on February 25th.   Next this bill went to the Iowa Senate on March 7th, and was passed after discussion on March 16th by a vote of 34-4.   Finally the Iowa Governor signed the bill into law on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1921.

This law would then give local cities the ability to hold a special election and, if passed, use a small portion of annual property tax collections to support and maintain a municipal band.   In so doing, the municipal band would become part of the city government and would have a steadier, more predictable source of funding.   The City of Fort Dodge enacted this bill into law on March 26th, 1923 by a vote of 2,803 in favor and 1,545 against.  This funding is still the basis for the annual operating budget of the Karl L. King Municipal Band along with several other Iowa cities.

That same year, 1923, when Fort Dodge adopted the Band Law, Karl King composed and published his march, “The Iowa Band Law”, which was “Dedicated to Major Geo. W.  Landers, Clarinda, Iowa, founder of Iowa Band Law”.   This landmark piece of legislation was eventually adopted by more than 30 states and at least 3 foreign countries.

To learn more about the Iowa Band Law, go to Rod Everhart’s fine article published in the Circus Fanfare, Vol. 48, No. 5, in the September/October 2018 issue.

The Corn Palace concerts:

With the passage of the Iowa Band Law and the growth in both membership and technical proficiency of the Fort Dodge band under Karl King’s leadership in 1921, the financial issues were becoming less of a problem as the band’s reputation and community support was quickly growing.

At the band’s final indoor concert on April 28th, 1921, this item appeared at the bottom of the printed program, “We sincerely hope your attendance here has been the means of creating a new interest in our organization and establishing confidence in our future endeavors”.

The Fort Dodge Municipal Band was able to secure a booking to play the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines in August 1921, along with some other local county fairs.   At the State Fair, there just happened to be two representatives from the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.   They apparently approved of the performances the band played during the Iowa State Fair, and excitedly offered them a $5,000 contract to come play for their annual six day exhibition near the end of September.

This exhibition was one of the most significant fall celebrations in the upper Midwest.   Music was the main attraction at this event, along with elaborate murals made of ears of corn, milo, and other colorful grains.   The year before, in 1920, John Philip Sousa’s band had played there.   The featured band each year would play a series of concerts rather than just accompany a variety of acts.   The new Mitchell Corn Palace Auditorium, built at a cost of $275,000, had been completed earlier in 1921 prior to this festival.

The Fort Dodge band played a total of 11 concerts during this six day event, from September 26th through October 1st.   There was a band concert every evening, and some in the afternoons as well.   Each evening, over 4,000 people would fill the auditorium to hear the concert.   To view each of these concert programs, you can go to the band’s website at Online Photo Archive Page 8.   You will find this picture of the band towards the bottom of that page, with a caption underneath, saying "Listing of 1921 Corn Palace Programs”.    You will again notice King’s style of programming: marches, classics and transcriptions, waltzes, solo features, and popular songs of the day.   Notice that King always featured some of his own compositions at each concert.

Karl King expanded the size of the Fort Dodge group to 45 players for this festival, bringing in some of the finest musicians from Chicago and Minneapolis to fill in along with the regular members from Fort Dodge. This band was truly outstanding.   In Hawkeye Glory, Thomas J. Hatton states that “John Magennis, who played cornet, felt that it was very probably the finest over-all band that Karl King ever led while he was in Fort Dodge.”   The band was very well received, and established itself as “one of the most important organizations in the Midwest”.   It would soon become known simply as “King’s Band” or “The King Band”.   For this festival, King wrote “The New Corn Palace March” that was then published by Fillmore Bros. Co., Cincinnati Ohio, in 1923.

In Retrospect:

Why Karl King came to Fort Dodge and stayed for 50 years has never been completely determined and is still a matter of speculation.  Was he encouraged by C.L. Barnhouse from Oskaloosa IA, who had already published dozens of King’s compositions?   Did he remember Fort Dodge from when the Barnum and Bailey Circus stopped there on August 20, 1913?   Was he looking for a Midwestern city where he could write his own music, establish a publishing company, direct a Municipal Band, and raise his young son?

One thing is certain.  Fort Dodge admired and respected Karl L. King.   A state highway bridge was named in his honor in the 1960s – the Karl King Viaduct, one of only a handful of bridges across America named for band conductors.   The Band Shell in Oleson Park that he worked so tirelessly to have built in the 1930s was renamed the Karl L. King Band Shell after his death.   The local Municipal Band that he conducted for fifty years was renamed the Karl L. King Municipal Band of Fort Dodge IA also after his death.   A local city park downtown, formerly known as the City Square, was renamed the Karl L. King Memorial Park.   There is a life-size bronze statue erected there of King in a conducting pose.   Several local, district, and state awards and scholarships in Iowa bear his name.
Late in his career, Karl L. King once said “I’ve sung my song.   It was a rather simple one; it wasn’t too involved; I’m happy about it.”    Karl King loved Fort Dodge, and his adopted city and state loved him as well!   The year 1921 – 100 years ago - was just the beginning of so many tremendous things to come from this great and humble man who gave everyone so much more than just “A Year in the Life of a King”.

By Jerrold P. Jimmerson (WJU #3118)

A portion of this article was published in the January-February 2021 Circus Fanfare publication of Windjammers Unlimited, Inc.: VOL. 51, NO. 1 - JAN/FEB 2021 - ISSN 1056-1463

Karl Lawrence King (1891-1971) was a master at writing enjoyable, playable, and fun music for many different ages, abilities, and experience levels.   His music, especially his circus compositions, captured the spirit and flavor of whichever act he was writing for at the time.   Difficulty levels of his music ranged from grade 2.5 (Medium Easy) to Grade 5 (Difficult).   His music is playable with younger groups to high school groups and community bands to college and professional bands.

Occasionally a question might come up about how many compositions did King actually compose and publish.   Generally the estimate is ‘about 300’.   The answer to the publishing question is easier to determine; the answer to how many he actually composed is a different matter.

All together, King had 294 compositions published by a variety of companies, primarily C.L. Barnhouse Co. in Oskaloosa IA, and K.L. King Music House in Fort Dodge IA.   In addition, there were other unpublished compositions of his that he would simply give to a particular act when they moved on and left whichever circus show King was with at the time.   Other unpublished compositions were destroyed in a disastrous fire in downtown Fort Dodge in 1971.

King published a total of 180 marches, 27 waltzes, 20 overtures, 13 galops, 10 serenades, 6 intermezzos, and 26 others in different styles (rags, reveries, and other dance styles) under his own name for a total of 282 pieces.   These were all published between the years of 1909 and 1962.   Some of these same works were published for Orchestra as well and are not included in the final total here.   He actually submitted some early composition at age 14 (in 1905) which were rejected by the publishers.

Many composers during this time (e.g., Henry Fillmore, Fred Jewell, etc.), also published music using different pseudonyms.   Karl King published under the name of ‘Carl Lawrence’ for an additional 5 marches, 2 waltzes, 2 overtures 1 intermezzo, and 2 other styles, for another 12 compositions.

In studying King’s compositional output by decades, it is easy to determine where and when the majority of his music was published.   His first publications were in 1909, at the age of 18, when he had 9 published.    These included 5 marches, 2 waltzes, a serenade, and a dirge.   His first published march was “March T.M.B.”, dedicated to the Thayer Military Band in Canton, Ohio.   It was published by King’s Euphonium teacher, William Strassner of Canton.   It was the Thayer Band where King sat in and played Euphonium after first playing in the Canton Marine Band.

During the decade 1910-1919, there were a total of 124 different compositions published, mostly in the various circus styles.   From 1920-1929, King published another 61 compositions.   Several of these were dedicated to local members of the Fort Dodge Municipal Band or others that he came in contact within the city.

From 1930-1939, another 30 compositions were published.   Several of these were dedicated to colleges and universities.   In the 1940s, an additional 47 compositions appeared, with several in two of his popular march books, Marching to Victory in 1942 and Uncle Sam A-Strut in 1943.

In the 1950s, another 20 compositions were published, with many of those included in his Liberty March Folio in 1955.   Finally in the early 1960s, his final 3 compositions appeared.   His final march publication was “The Home Town Boy” in 1962, dedicated to Iowa’s own Meredith Willson of Mason City.   For more information on any of the publications by Karl L. King, you can visit Karl King Compositions.

The next issue of the 2021 Circus Fanfare also told about Karl L. King.

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The Karl King Page