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Karl L. King

Circus Bandmaster and 
March King

Born February 21, 1891
Died March 31, 1971

Karl King joined Robinson's Famous Circus at the age of 19 as a baritone player.  He joined the circus world at a time when the acts were in great need of special music since the standard music did not fit. Karl King was a master at writing music to match the rhythm of the acts and quickly rose to leadership positions in some of the most famous circus bands in the country, including the Buffalo Bill and the Barnum and Bailey. He contributed more circus marches than any other composer, and aerial waltzes and circus galops were his specialty.

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Karl King is pictured above in the Yankee-Robinson Circus Band of 1911.  - 1911 season route -
He is the baritone player on the left end of the fourth row.

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In this 1918 photo, the Barnum and Bailey Circus Band stands in front of a circus rail car.
Director Karl King is seen wearing a different hat, standing tall in the back left.

King played an important role in the Iowa Band Law, legislation giving municipalities the right to levy a small tax to support a municipal band and is pictured in the photo of the very first American Bandmasters Association convention.

Karl King was also one of the first to write special music for the growing school band programs in America.  He composed marches especially intended for school bands as well as waltzes, overtures, and other selections, and as a result was in wide demand as a massed band conductor and contest judge.

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Barnum and Bailey's Circus Band conductor Karl King is seen here
third from right riding the Two Hemisphere Band Chariot.

1931 Band in front of FD City Hall - click to enlarge
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The 1931 photo above shows the Karl King Band standing in front of the City Hall in Fort Dodge, Iowa.  The occasion was the annual Legion Day celebration held in Exposition Park on July 4. The band gave concerts during the afternoon and evening and accompanied the vaudeville acts.  Director Karl King is in the white uniform.

When he finally put down his pen after 50 years, Karl King had published 280 musical compositions - not counting the ones he had given away or had not bothered to publish. Many of his works were written in tents by the light of a flashlight or kerosene lantern. He was at his best when music was needed at a moment's notice.

Karl L. King was honored with many prestigious awards: elected in 1962 to the highest honor that can come to a band director, the Academy of Wind and Percussion Arts, elected in 1966 to the Society of European Stage Actors and Composers, given in 1967 the Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity Distinguished Service Award, and in 1971, the Edwin Franco Goldman Award (the first non-school band director to receive this coveted award).

It is a testimony to his talents that so much of his music is still played today all over the world. At his death in 1971, Karl L. King was one of the most loved and respected figures in American music.

more biographical information
Online Photo Archive of Early Bands in Fort Dodge
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