Karl Lawrence King
(1891 - 1971)
Composers of Great Band Works
by Brian Harris
Karl King is pictured wearing the uniform
of the Thayer Military Band of Canton, Ohio.
This was his first professional position.
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 printers 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
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.
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
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
Bits of Karl King Trivia
His father, Sandusky, sold farm equipment and played tuba in the
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
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
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: Ive sung my song. It was a rather simple one;
it wasnt too involved; Im happy about it.
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