Originally christened “America’s First Family of Song” in the 1960’s, The King Family, comprised of “big band era” greats The King Sisters, guitar virtuoso Alvino Rey and the 32 sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles and children that made up their extended musical family, catapulted to fame following just two dazzling appearances on ABC-TV’s The Hollywood Palace to become one of the most popular and beloved television, recording and concert acts of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Acclaim from audiences and critics alike for their ‘Palace’ appearances led to their first headlining television special, The Family is King, in 1964. That special’s ratings-topping popularity landed the musical group its own weekly ABC-TV showcase, The King Family Show, during 1965 and 1966. An audience favorite, the series featured the entire musical family in various groupings --The King Sisters – who’d already established themselves as one of the nation’s top vocal groups, and the next generation’s contingent The King Cousins, featuring Tina Cole who went on to star as “Katie Douglas” on CBS’ My Three Sons, along with the irrepressible King Kiddies whose musical talent and effortless comedic timing were a staple of these tune-filled hours.
For the next decade the The King Family dominated the media landscape producing and starring in seventeen of their own holiday specials including Christmas with the King Family, Easter with the King Family, The King Family in Atlanta and Mother’s Day with the King Family, a second ABC-TV variety series in 1969, a cavalcade of “special guest” appearances on the nation’s top variety series and special event programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Grammy Awards and The Emmy Awards, a series of popular albums for Warner Bros. Records, including their best-selling Christmas with The King Family, headlining appearances at the nation’s top concert venues including several sold-out appearances at The Hollywood Bowl, nightclub engagements in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, fabled appearances at Disneyland and a “King Family Day” at the Worlds Fair.
It all started with the patriarch of the King Family, William King Driggs Sr. in Pleasant Grove, Utah. He was a music teacher, and when his family began to grow, and his teacher’s salary didn’t, he formed a family orchestra with his wife Pearl and eight children (Karleton, Maxine, Luise, Alyce, Donna, Yvonne, Bill and Marilyn) and moved his troupe to California.
On weekends, and in the summer, “The Driggs Family of Entertainers” as they were then known played in theatres, clubs, schools and churches all over the West.
The oldest daughters adopted their fathers middle name and formed their own vocal group, The King Sisters, while still in junior high school. Beginning as a trio consisting of sisters Maxine, Luise and Alyce; the group started out on radio on station KLX in Oakland, California and later on KSL Radio in Salt Lake City. They were soon signed for two-weeks at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco that lasted for five years. The group then became a quartet when Maxine married and retired and sisters Donna and Yvonne joined the group. Later Donna retired and was replaced by baby sister Marilyn. At one time or another every one of the six Driggs daughters sang as a member of The King Sisters.
First recording and performing with the Horace Heidt Orchestra across the country including Chicago's Drake Hotel and New York's Biltmore Hotel, The King Sisters later toured with
legendary bandleader and clarinetist Artie Shaw
before joining guitarist and fellow Heidt –alum Alvino Rey (married to King Sister Luise) and his orchestra. Together they became one of the leading
attractions of the day on records, radio and the concert stage.
Now billed as The Four King Sisters, the quartet, featuring Luise, Alyce, Donna and Yvonne, recorded hit after hit for RCA Records including “Mairzy Doates,” ‘Nighty Night”, “Miss Otis Regrets", “San Fernando Valley”, "Jersey Bounce" and the “Hut-Sut Song.” As the sisters developed their signature vocal style, becoming the first female vocal group to perform jazz-based four part harmonies, thirteen of their recordings made the top 30 between 1941 and 1945.
Hollywood beckoned and the sisters began to appear in films including Cuban Pete with Desi Arnaz, Meet the People with Lucille Ball and MGM’s Thrill of Romance with Van Johnson and Esther Williams -- but a whole new era of success and creative achievement lie ahead as a new decade dawned for the talented vocal group.
In 1953 NBC offered the Sisters and Alvino Rey their own television series in Hollywood. The Alvino Rey - King Sisters Show became a popular Los Angeles favorite and brought the Sisters to the attention of Capital Records. By this time Donna had retired and Marilyn had become a permanent member of The King Sisters.
Signed to Capitol Records in 1957, The King Sisters debuted a brand new sophisticated sound, lowering the keys of their songs, featuring more unisons and developing a far more jazz oriented feel to their performances of always first rate material.
Great public and critical success followed each new King Sisters record including a Grammy® nomination for their groundbreaking Imagination album. Their recording success led to a busy schedule of concert dates in the nation’s top clubs and showrooms as well as appearances on television showcases including The Steve Allen Show, The George Gobel Show and The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.
Along with the resurgence and growth of their popularity, the sisters’ families were growing as well. Having their children join them on stage for a song at a performance was a frequent show-stopping facet of several King Sisters engagements. The seeds that would lead to the “birth” of the singing and performing King Family were beginning to flourish as the 1960’s dawned.
King Sister Yvonne was asked to put together a benefit show for her church and she had the idea to ask her entire family to join her on stage. The King children, who had virtually grown up around show business, were developing unique and engaging talents of their own. The first official King Family performance was a smashing success and soon each sister’s church asked for a similar benefit show.
One such engagement, a performance for Brigham Young University, was taped by the school’s student video department. An edited version of that performance was eventually “pitched” by Yvonne to ABC television as a possible series and The King Family was born.
Following two appearances on The Hollywood Palace, The
King Family headlined their own first special. Public response to that initial TV outing was
ecstatic with the network receiving over 53,000 letters of fan support for the
newly crowned TV sensations. The
special’s success spawned two separate King Family variety series and seventeen
King Family specials throughout the 1960’s and 70’s.
Each King Family Show featured contributions from the Sisters themselves, Alvino Rey and his own invention the “talking steel guitar” which he had popularized in a series of hit recordings including “Mama’s Blues” and actor Robert Clarke who had starred in and produced a series of now classic sci-fi epics. Married to Alyce King, Clarke served as the shows announcer and delivered dramatic readings based on each programs theme. The King Cousins provided the younger sound singing the top hits of the day. A spinoff group, consisting of sisters Tina and Cathy Cole and cousins Candy Conkling and Carolyn Thomas billed as The Four King Cousins, also found popular success and recorded a highly regarded Capitol Records release Introducing...The Four King Cousins. Rounding out the stellar lineup were the King Kiddies, former Stan Kenton trombonist Kent Larsen and the remaining members of their extended family who completed the talented mix that kept them at the top of the showbiz ranks for two decades.
The King Family continued to appear together in concert and on television throughout the 1970’s and The King Sisters continued into the 1980’s. They were one the featured entertainers at Ronald Reagan's second Presidential Inauguration Gala in 1985. Most recently The Family performed together in 1996 for Utah state's sesquicentennial celebration. In 2004, their unique place among the pantheon of entertainers associated with the holidays, including Andy Williams and Judy Garland, was celebrated as part of the BRAVO Television Network’s documentary The Christmas Special Christmas Special.
Several family members remain actively involved in show business with Marilyn King carrying on the King Sisters tradition as a popular concert performer. Her daughter Jen Staves is a performer, songwriter and recording artist in Los Angeles. Tina Cole is an acclaimed actress and director and recently spent 5 years as the resident director of the Sacramento Children's Theatre. Original King Kiddie Cam Clarke is a celebrated voice actor providing voices for numerous animated series (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Cow & Chicken, The Lion King), films (Underdog, The Lion King: Return to Pride Rock, The Little Mermaid II) and video games (Metal Gear Solid, EverQuest II, Painkiller). Cam’s older brother, King Cousin Ric de Azevedo, performs across the country with Jim and Gary Pike in the trio group Reunion (formerly The Letterman) and his other brother, two-time Golden Globe® nominee Lex de Azevedo, is producer/composer of the Public Television series Signing Time created by his daughters Emilie and Rachel; Lex’s other daughter Julie de Azevedo is an accomplished songwriter and recording artist. King Cousin Liza Rey Butler is a songwriter, arranger and harpist in Maine and plays concert harp on albums by Arcade Fire, the critically acclaimed rock band headed by her sons, Win and Will. Jamie Green, daughter of King Cousin Cathy (Cole) Green, is an award-winning independent recording artist and songwriter.
Several members of the family recently appeared in "Christmas with the King Family" (2009) - a new musical documentary for Public Television which celebrates their iconic Christmas specials.