Karl Lawrence King
(1891 - 1971)

Composers of Great Band Works
by Brian Harris
Bandroom.com Publications

Karl King is pictured wearing the uniform
of the Thayer Military Band of Canton, Ohio.
This was his first professional position.

Thayer Military Band

Karl King's Life Timeline

• Karl King was born in Paintersville, Ohio (February 21, 1891), an only child.
• The family moved to Canton, Ohio when King was 11 years old.
• At age 12, Karl used earnings from his newspaper route to purchase a cornet and pay for music lessons; later switched to baritone because of embouchure problems.
• He left school at age 14 after completing the 8th grade and took a job as a printer’s assistant with the local newspaper.
• At 17, he had two numbers (a march and a dirge) accepted for publication.
• At age 18, he had played for two paying postions (Thayer Military Band & Neddermeyer Band).
• When 19, Karl King joined the Robinson Famous Circus band as a baritone player.
• After three years spent with different circus bands, he joined the Barnum and Bailey Circus at age 22.
• At 23, Karl accepted his first director/conductor position with the Sells-Floto/Buffalo Bill Circus band.
• By age 24, he had more than 150 compositions in print.
• Karl married at age 25, resigning his job with the Sells-Floto Circus band.
• When 26, he accepted the position as conductor of the Barnum and Bailey Circus band.
• At age 27, he enlisted in the US Army (WWI), but the war ended before he began service; he returned to his hometown of Canton as director of a local band.

Karl King at the piano with his wife, Ruth, and his son, Karl King Jr.

• At age 28, he began his music publishing business and his only son, Karl L. King, Jr., was born.
• When 29, the family moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa where he accepted the job as director of the municipal band, a position he held until his death 52 years later.
• At 32, his father died.
• When he was 59, Karl King was feted with a testimonial dinner attended by the governor of Iowa, a Congressman, other dignitaries and leaders in the band world including Glenn Bainum, A.A. Harding, Paul Yoder, and William Santleman (conductor of the Marine Band).
• At 62, was awarded an honorary doctorate in music from Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma.
• At 70, he conducted a clinic-concert of his works for the Texas Bandmasters Association in San Antonio, Texas.
• At age 74, his 96-year-old mother died.
• During his 79th year, a disastrous fire destroyed the building where the Fort Dodge band was headquartered, destroying most of his original manuscripts.
• at 80, Karl King conducted his 2nd to last concert - his birthday celebration - on February 21, 1971.
• Karl King died (March 31, 1971) of acute diverticulosis at age 80 in a Fort Dodge, Iowa hospital.

Karl King with Meredith Willson

Karl King with Meredith Willson

Bits of Karl King Trivia

• His father, Sandusky, sold farm equipment and played tuba in the town band.
• His mother, Anna, was not involved in music.
• His only formal instruction in composition consisted of four piano lessons and one harmony lesson.
• He taught himself how to orchestrate by studying scores.
• He founded and ran the K.L. King Music House, his music publishing business.
• He was mostly interested in composing and conducting, and did not particularly enjoy teaching music lessons.
• He was influential in establishing the Iowa Band Law, which allowed cities to levy a local tax “for the maintenance and employment of a band for musical purposes.” This law was eventually adopted by 28 other states.
• He was a founding member of the Iowa Bandmasters Association and was elected to membership in the American Bandmasters Association at that group's first convention
• He was one of the first composers to write music for the growing school band movement.
• He composed over 200 marches and close to 100 other compositions like waltzes, serenades, and galops.
• He once said: I’ve sung my song. It was a rather simple one; it wasn’t too involved; I’m happy about it.

1917 Season Band
click to enlarge image

Karl King's Trouping Days

1910 - baritone player with the Robinson Famous Shows under bandmaster Woody Van - Route -
1911 - baritone player with the Yankee Robinson Circus under bandmaster Theo. Stout - Route -
1912 - baritone player with the Sells-Floto Circus under bandmaster W. P. English - Route -
1913 - baritone player with the Barnum & Bailey Circus under bandmaster Ned Brill - Route -
1914 - Bandmaster for Sells-Floto & Buffalo Bill Combined Shows - Route -
1915 - Bandmaster for Sells-Floto & Buffalo Bill Combined Shows - Route -
1916 - Bandmaster for the Sells-Floto Circus - Route -
1917  - Bandmaster for the Barnum & Bailey Circus
1918  - Bandmaster for the Barnum & Bailey Circus

Karl L. King by Thomas J. Hatton (1975); 
Karl L. King: His Life and His Music by Jess Louis Gerardi, Jr.; 
Karl L. King website (http://KarlKing.us)
Karl L. King Archives, Fort Dodge Public Library, Fort Dodge, Iowa
Page 6, Composers of Great Band Works by Dr. Brian Harris, Director of Bands McLennan Community College, Waco

Karl King Compositions - Online Photo Archive

back to the Karl King Page