1971 Interview of Karl L. King

On March 20 of 1971, Kristen Hovick, a sixth grader at Duncombe School in Fort Dodge, Iowa, conducted an interview of Karl King at his home.  She had selected Karl King to interview as a class project for advanced students because her father, C. J. Hovick, had played in the Karl King Band in 1944 before he went into the U. S. Army.  In February, Kristen and her mom had attended Karl's 80th Birthday Celebration Concert at North Junior High, later called Phillips Middle School where Mr. King received the Goldman Award.  Because so many people attended, Kristen and her mom sat in the balcony while Kristen's dad stayed home to tape the program from the radio broadcast.

Kristen called Mr. King to set the time of the interview.  Karl and his wife agreed to have Kristen and her mom come to their home on 4th Avenue North where Mr. King answered questions and visited about mutual acquaintances.  Karl then autographed an album of his music and presented it to Kristen.

Karl King died on March 30, 1971, just ten days after this interview was taped.


The following document was transcribed by Nancy Olson from the cassette recording of the interview.  At the beginning of the recording Mr. King is discussing the fire at 9th Street and First Avenue South which destroyed Bender Furniture Store and the Knights of Columbus Hall where the Karl King Band held rehearsals and stored equipment and music.

Hear a WOI report on Kristen's interview.    This MP3 recording includes a portion of the
1950 WOI MBC Radio broadcast when Karl King's voice was captured

King's laughter, then his voice, I don't know, I could hardly believe it.  A lot of things...there went all my music.  Fifty years up in smoke ... starting from scratch at 80 to do it all over again.
Kristen: Shouldn't laugh at it.
King: Oh, don't be afraid of me.

Kristen: When did you start playing an instrument?
King: I suppose I was around 12 or 13, something like that.  I started playing a cornet.

Kristen: Did you take any lessons?
King: Oh yes, I had lessons from a private teacher.  You see, in those days they didn't have any school bands like you people have now, when they teach it in schools.  There weren't any school bands.  The only way you'd get started was to take lessons from a private teacher and try to eventually work in on an adult band which was music and to be good enough if your teacher recommended you to get in there.  Now everybody plays and instrument in the schools and the school furnishes the teacher and half the instruments.  But in those days I earned the money for my first cornet by selling papers on the street.  I paid for it myself and I had to pay for my own music lessons.

Kristen: How long did you take lessons?
King: Oh, I don't remember.  I mean, probably for several years.  Off and on, you know.

Kristen: Did you like music when you were young?
King: Oh, I sure did or I wouldn't have went into it.

Kristen: Were you sad that you left being in the newspaper business?
King: On, not particularly, no.  I liked that, but then I liked a chance to join a circus band and that was very adventuresome!

Kristen: How did you feel when you first saw your work in print?
King: I was quite elated, naturally.

Kristen: Did you like playing with the band in the circus?
King: Oh sure.  I've liked everything I've done in music.  I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't.  There are better ways of getting rich, you know!

Kristen: Did you enjoy the two years with the Sells-Floto and the Buffalo Bill Combined Shows?
King: Oh yes.  I directed the band.  Have a picture of the band over there on the wall.  The top band picture there to the right.  In the white uniform.  Sells-Floto Band - 1914.  Let's see, that was only 57 years ago!!

Kristen: When you came to Fort Dodge, did you like it here?
King: Yes we did, or we wouldn't have stayed. Is that picking up my voice? Am I close enough?  The people here were very nice to me and to the band.  I didn't intend to stay.  Probably when I first came, I just came out two to three years to see how it'd work out.  It was nice and the band was good.  Kept staying on and been here over fifty years now.

Kristen: What song that you composed is your favorite?
King: Oh, I don't have any favorites.  That's like asking someone "which one of your kids do you like the best?"  But the one that I'm best known by, mostly known by, is that "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite" march, circus march.  That's the one that's the most popular.

Kristen: Have you lived in this house since you came to Fort Dodge?
King: Oh, no.  We've been here about twenty years.  First we lived on Forest Avenue.  Where Bob Mills lives now.  Forget the number.  That stucco house.
Kristen's mother: I know which one it is, third or fourth from the corner.
King: Then we went down to 8th Avenue North.  1637 8th Avenue North.  That's where Fred Moore, assistant postmaster, lives now.  Then we came here about 20 years ago.
Kristen's mother: This is a nice home.
King: My mother was living with us at the time and her second husband died.  She couldn't climb stairs.  That's the reason we moved to another house; wanted a house all on one floor.  Now it's for our own sake to be all on one floor.
Kristen's mother: Just what you needed.
King: Where do you live?
Kristen's mother: We live at 1318 6th Avenue North
King: You're not too far from that Forest Avenue.
Kristen: No.

Kristen's mother: Do you have some more questions?  She was worried about questions and I said just visit with would be nice.
King: Oh, Sweetheart, if there's anything you want to know ...

Kristen's mother: We were wondering what the proudest moment?
King: That's hard to say.  So many people have been so good to me on so many different occasions, you know.  I suppose ... I just couldn't pick one out.  I suppose the first time I directed the Barnum and Bailey Band in Madison Square Garden, I felt sorta big.  I wa an awfully young fella then.  That's something for your ego, you know.  But I guess the greatest honor was when I was elected Honorary Life President of the American Bandmaster's Association.  After having been an active president, that's probably as honorable as honors go.

Kristen's mother: Why don't you tell him what you are going to do with this tape.
Kristen: My teacher in school in 6th grade, Miss Mitzens, and my social studies teacher, Mr. Semor, and I'll play for them and then put the tape in the library at school and then students can listen to it.
King:  That will be fine, Honey.

Kristen's mother: Did you tell him about the birthday concert?
Kristen: On the other side of the tape I have 30 minutes of your birthday concert.
King: You do?
Kristen: I taped it at the concert.
Kristen's mother: Her father did.  We went to the concert.  We didn't know if they'd want us taping in there.  I see a lot of people that were ...
King:  Quite a few of them.  I know that Keith Altemeier, high school band leader, taped the whole thing.  He brought me a tape a few days ago.  Picked it up pretty good, which is amazing, because it wasn't set up like a studio or anything.  There were tapes all over the place and all the crowd.   And you wouldn't think it would be good, but it came out pretty good.
Kristen's mother: We taped some of it.  Her dad stayed home and taped it from the radio and it turned out pretty good.

Kristen: How did you get all the songs together for the first concert after the fire?
King: Well, I had to get busy just right after the fire, to start on the music.  So I could get enough of that.  Then I had to start right in trying to replace all that Irish music - it burned up from the Irish concert.  And that was hard because most of those older arrangements I had used every year were older publications that were not available;  out of print.  I had to find substitute arrangements and some of them were not as good as the originals.

Kristen's mother: There are some that will never be replaced, then?
King:  Ohhh, man, is that right!  It's an accumulation of fifty years of playing.  We bought some every year for fifty years, and then there were special arrangements that I had written for members of the band for special occasions, you know.

Kristen's mother: I'm sure there were things you had done and then didn't have copies of them ...
King: Oh, there's a lot of it.  A lot of older things that are out of print and can't be bought anymore.  And if you are like me, I discover it costs about four times as much as when I originally bought them.
Kristen's mother: That's true too, most people don't realize that.
King: Couldn't estimate the value of that library.
Kristen's mother: Oh, goodness sake!  That is too bad.
King: Lost all our drum equipment, you know.  All our horns, public address system that we use outdoors all summer; all that stuff that we had up there.

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