Acclaim from audiences and critics alike for their ‘Palace’ appearances led to their first headlining television special, The Family is King, in August 1964. The ratings-topping popularity of that special combined with over 60,000 fan letters sent to the network, 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 been established 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” on CBS’ My Three Sons, along with the irrepressible King Kids whose musical talent and effortless comedic timing were a staple of these tune-filled hours.
It all started in the 1920s with the patriarch of the Family, William King Driggs Sr. or "King" as he was known, 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 their seven children (Karleton, Maxine, Luise, Alyce, Donna, Yvonne and Bill, Jr.) and moved his troupe to California. Their eighth and youngest child, Marilyn, was born in Glendale following their move 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 soon formed their own vocal group and adopted their father’s middle name to become, 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 in 1931 on station KLX in Oakland, California and later on KSL Radio in Salt Lake City. They were signed for a two-week gig with Horace Heidt's radio show at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco in 1933 that ended up extending for five years. In addition to The King Sisters, Hedit had also hired Alyce as the band's solo vocalist. The King Sisters trio was briefly a sextet when Heidt combined Maxine, Luis and Alyce's harmony trio with their two younger sisters' trio group featuring Donna, Yvonne and their friend Anita Johnston. The new "Six King Sisters" performed in April and May on Heidt's radio show. Then in June when Heidt's show went East - Yvonne, Donna and Anita stayed in San Francisco and The King Sisters resumed singing as a trio. Heidt's show returned to San Francisco in August and he reunited the "Six King Sisters" for another month long run. In September, Heidt was again taking his show East and this time Donna remained with the group and The King Sisters emerged as one of the first female sibling quartets with Maxine, Luise, Alyce and now younger sister Donna. Maxine had recently married in May of that year and by October wanted to stop traveling and return to San Francisco to make a home with her husband. Heidt was about to take his show to the Drake Hotel in Chicago and wanted to retain the unique and successful female sibling quartet format. So after five years, Maxine was allowed out of her contract and retired from the group and younger sister Yvonne (only 15 years old) joined as a permanent King Sister. Almost a decade later, Donna retired from the group and was replaced by baby sister Marilyn in 1951. Marilyn remained with the group until Yvonne officially retired in the late 1980s, then Marilyn continued a solo career until her death in 2013. At one time or another each one of the six Driggs daughters sang as a member of The King Sisters.
After performing and recording with the Horace Heidt Orchestra across the country including Chicago's Drake Hotel and New York's Biltmore Hotel, the group was temporarily a trio again in the Fall of 1937 when Alyce was forced to leave Heidt’s band. The new trio configuration of Luise, Donna and Yvonne performed throughout the year and into the next until they all decided to leave Heidt in November 1938. They joined guitarist and fellow Heidt –alum Alvino Rey (married to King Sister Luise) and his orchestra and reunited with Alyce to resume their quartet. Together The King Sisters and the Alvino Rey Orchestra became one of the leading attractions of the day on records, radio and the concert stage. The King Sisters later toured with legendary bandleader and clarinetist Artie Shaw and with the Buddy Cole Orchestra (Yvonne was married to Cole).
They declined an offer from Glenn Miller in 1941 to join his band and appear in the film Sun Valley Serenade and opted to stay with Alvino. They subsequently recorded hit after hit for RCA/ Victor Records including “Mairzy Doates,” ‘Nighty Night”, “Miss Otis Regrets", “San Fernando Valley”, "Jersey Bounce" and the “Hut-Sut Song.” Now billed as The Four King Sisters, the quartet (featuring Luise, Alyce, Donna and Yvonne) became the first successful female vocal group to perform jazz-based four part harmonies. As the sisters developed their signature vocal style, thirteen of their recordings made the top 30 between 1941 and 1945.
Hollywood beckoned and the sisters also began to appear in films including Universal Studios Follow the Band, Larceny with Music, On Stage Everybody and most significantly with Desi Arnaz in Cuban Pete - RKO’s Sing Your Worries Away with Buddy Ebsen, Bert Lahr and June Havoc, MGM’s Meet the People with Lucille Ball and Thrill of a Romance with Van Johnson and Esther Williams and many more - but a whole new era of success and creative achievement lie ahead as a new decade dawned for the talented vocal group.
Alvino joined the Navy for two years beginning in 1943. During that time The King Sisters had joined with Rey-alum, and Yvonne's husband, Buddy Cole and his orchestra. Alvino formed a new band in early 1946 after he had returned to civilian life. The King Sisters configuration changed again when Luise left the group to spend more time with her husband and also to play harp in his band Fourteen year old Marilyn took her place and The King Sisters went on to record with Buddy Cole on Victor Records and later recorded several transcriptions at famed Capitol Records. Luise remained with group, though, for their appearances on the Ozzie & Harriet radio show. In 1948 Alvino formed another new band and The King Sisters, with Luise, re-joined him.
In the following years of 1949 thru 1952 The King Sisters focused on their growing families and didn’t perform as often as in previous years. Donna moved to New York with her husband James (Jim) Conkling who had recently been appointed President of Columbia Records and retired from the group. Alvino continued with his band and had added youngest King Sister Marilyn as his female solo vocalist along with the Blue Reys quintet which included famed singer Jimmy Joyce and composer Alfred Burt. Alvino, Marilyn and The Blue Reys would perform on their own television series called Ford Time starring Alvino Rey in Oakland/ San Francisco, California during that time and in 1952 The King Sisters, with Marilyn joined Alvino for a new TV series on KNBH channel 4 in Los Angeles call Pasadena Community Dance. The series was broadcast live from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
In 1953 KNBH (NBC Los Angeles) 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 Capitol Records. By this time Marilyn was a permanent member of The King Sisters. It was on an episode of this series that The King Sisters invited their entire family to join them in song…thus becoming the very first TV appearance of “The King Family.”
Signed to Capitol Records in 1956 (they had previously recorded for Capitol Records a decade earlier), The King Sisters debuted a brand new sophisticated sound, lowering the keys of their songs 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, The Nat King Cole 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. Many of the young cousins had served as background vocalists on recordings by Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Dorothy Provine, Joe “Fingers” Carr and later with The Letterman, The Everly Brothers and on the soundtrack to Bye, Bye Birdie among others.
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 in early 1964, The King Family headlined their first television special. Public response to The Family is King in August 1964 was ecstatic with the network receiving over 60,000 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 and TV special 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 “Bob” Clarke who had starred in several films including The Man from Planet X, Outrage, Tales of Robin Hood, The Astounding She-Monster and produced and starred in the now classic sci-fi epic The Hideous Sun Demon. 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 formed in 1966 - The Four King Cousins - consisting of sisters Tina and Cathy Cole and cousins Candy Conkling and Carolyn Thomas. They found success on television, and in concert and recorded a highly regarded and popular Capitol Records release Introducing...The Four King Cousins. Rounding out the stellar lineup were former Stan Kenton lead trombonist Kent Larsen, the King Kids, 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 performing into the mid 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. The Four King Cousins continue to perform in concert and recently released a CD of rare recordings from the King Family Archives. Tina Cole is an acclaimed actress and director and spent 5 years as the resident director of the Sacramento Children's Theatre. She recently co-hosted two PBS television specials - My Yearbook (1960-1963) with Bobby Vinton and Sister Acts with Kathy Lennon of The Lennon Sisters. Marilyn King's daughter Jen Staves is a performer, songwriter and recording artist in Los Angeles. Original King Kid Cam Clarke is a celebrated voice actor providing voices for numerous animated series, films and video games (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Underdog, The Lion King: Return to Pride Rock, The Little Mermaid II, Metal Gear Solid, EverQuest II, Painkiller). Cam’s older brother, Ric de Azevedo, performs across the country with Jim and Gary Pike in the trio group Reunion (formerly of The Letterman) and their 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 recording artist, songwriter, arranger and harpist in Maine. She released a lullaby CD in 2015 and plays concert harp on albums by Arcade Fire, the critically acclaimed and Grammy winning indie rock band headed by her sons, Win and Will. Jamie Green, daughter of King Cousin Cathy (Cole) Green, is an award-winning recording artist and songwriter.
Several members of the family appeared in "Christmas with the King Family Reunion Special" (2009) - a musical documentary for Public Television which celebrates their iconic Christmas specials. A King Family Cookbook was published to coincide with the public television special, and many of the King Family’s original Warner Bros. albums were released on CD for the first time.
2014 saw the first official DVD release of the family’s classic Christmas specials “A King Family Christmas: The King Family Classic Holiday Specials Collection Volume 2.” This set joins Volume 1 in the series (which features the King’s popular Easter, Mother’s Day, and Back to Schools specials, amongst others) as perennial DVD best-sellers entertaining new generations of fans the world over.