Karl L. King

Biography by

+ Follow Artist

Karl L. King was a formidable, if less-imposing rival to Sousa. He wrote many band pieces to honor schools and universities and circus music.
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Many listeners, at least American listeners, associate only the iconic John Philip Sousa with band music, but Karl L. King was a formidable, if less-imposing rival. He wrote many band pieces to honor schools and universities and for use at circuses, his most famous being Barnum & Bailey's Favorite.

Karl Laurence King was born February 21, 1891, in Paintersville, OH. He showed musical talent late in his childhood and began playing trombone in the Canton (Ohio) Marine Band. At the behest of his teacher he took up the baritone and found it better suited to his skills. He never had any training in theory or composition, but studied the subjects on his own and became quite a capable orchestrator.

By 17 he produced his first march; two years later he began playing baritone with the band of Robinson's Famous Circus. Within a few years he became the ensemble's director. In 1914 he was appointed bandmaster of the Sells Floto-Buffalo Bill band, holding the post for two years. During 1917-1918 he served in the same capacity for Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth. During this time he wrote the aforementioned hit march, Barnum & Bailey's Favorite, and he also met his wife Ruth, who played calliope in the band.

In 1920, King moved his family, which now included an infant son, to Fort Dodge, IA, to serve as director of the municipal band, called the Fort Dodge Military Band. He also supported the family with a publishing company he had earlier established, while his wife operated a related business dealing in the sale of musical instruments. King, of course, used his publishing company to publish his own growing list of marches, waltzes, serenades, gallops, overtures, and rags.

Over the next several decades King provided many marches for the universities associated with the Big Ten, including Indiana, Our Indiana and Viking March. His Fort Dodge ensemble grew in prominence, too, making many tours, with appearances typically occurring at fairs and universities. King served as bandmaster of the Fort Dodge band for 38 years, retiring in 1959. He continued to make guest appearances leading other bands into the 1960s. He died in Fort Dodge in 1971, leaving an output of approximately 300 works, most (188) being marches or screamers (circus marches).