Marilyn King, the youngest and last surviving member of the King Sisters, a singing group with roots in the big-band era that found renewed popularity in the 1960s performing with their large extended family on a TV variety show, has died. She was 82.
King died Wednesday of cancer in Laguna Niguel, Calif., her family announced.
The group was originally assembled in the 1930s by their father, William King Driggs, a voice trainer and vaudevillian. Early on they were billed as the Six King Sisters and sang with Horace Heidt’s orchestra before paring down to a quartet that featured Marilyn’s older sisters, Alyce, Donna, Luise and Yvonne, whose jazz harmonies earned them considerable respect and commercial success.
At 13, Marilyn King began subbing with the quartet, and she became a full-fledged member in 1951 after Donna left the group. The King Sisters performed and recorded often with bandleader Alvino Rey, who married Luise King. An album the sisters recorded for Capitol, “Imagination,” earned the Kings a Grammy nomination in 1959, the same year they topped Playboy’s jazz poll.
In the early 1960s, the King family gave a charity performance that led to a weekly musical-variety show on ABC, “The King Family Show.” The series involved several generations and as many as 40 members of the family, including Rey and his “talking steel guitar.”
The program debuted in 1965, and “The King Family Show!” album released that same year made it to No. 34 on Billboard’s national album chart. But the death of family patriarch Driggs weeks into the show’s run made the success bittersweet, according to the AllMusic online database.
Although the series was canceled after a year, it was revived for several months in 1969. Through holiday specials, the Kings continued to have a regular presence on television into the 1970s.
The King Family musical tradition has extended through successive generations, and includes Marilyn’s grandnephews Win and Will Butler of Arcade Fire, another large ensemble in pop music.
The family started out in Utah, but Marilyn King was born May 11, 1931, in Glendale after the Kings moved to California. She was one of eight children.
A 1966 Los Angeles Times review of a King Family performance in Anaheim said Marilyn King excelled at delivering a comic song and clowned through “excellent impressions” of such artists as Ethel Merman and Louis Armstrong.
She also was a songwriter who contributed original material to the sisters’ albums. Her songs included “The Thrill Was New” and “Hawaii Is Calling Me.”
The King Sisters gave one of their final performances in 1985 at Ronald Reagan’s second presidential gala. Marilyn King last performed in concert in 2010.
Survivors include her daughter, Susannah Lloyd Foshee, and son, Adam Lloyd, from her marriage to television syndication pioneer Howard Lloyd; a daughter, Jennifer Larsen Staves, from her marriage to trombonist Kent Larsen; and seven grandchildren.
Her third husband, trumpeter Dalton Smith, died in 1989.
Distributed by MCT Information Services