Karl L. King

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1892 Bell Wagon from Ringling Brothers Circus

Karl L. King

Circus Bandmaster and 
March King

Born February 21, 1891
Died March 31, 1971

Karl King joined Robinson's Famous Circus at the age of 19 as a baritone player. He joined the circus world at a time when the acts were in great need of special music since the standard music did not fit. Karl King was a master at writing music to match the rhythm of the acts. and quickly rose to leadership positions in some of the most famous circus bands in the country, including the Buffalo Bill and the Barnum and Bailey. He contributed more circus marches than any other composer. Aerial waltzes and circus gallops were his specialty.

Karl King as a baritone player in Robinson's Famous Circus Band

In 1920, Karl King gave up circus life and accepted the position of conductor of the Fort Dodge Municipal Band, a post he held for over 50 years. Under his leadership the band became a popular fixture at state and regional fairs, rodeos, and expositions.

King was the founding member of the American Bandmasters Association (and is pictured in the photo of the very first ABA convention) and the Iowa Bandmasters Association. He played an important role in the Iowa Band Law, legislation giving municipalities the right to levy a small tax to support a municipal band.

King was also one of the first to write special music for the growing school band programs in America. He composed marches especially intended for school bands as well as waltzes, overtures, and other selections. As a result, he was in wide demand as a massed band conductor and contest judge.

When he finally put down his pen after 50 years, he had published 300 musical compositions - not counting the ones he had given away or not bothered to publish. Many of his works were written in tents by the light of a flashlight or kerosene lantern. He was at his best when music was needed at a moment's notice.

Karl L. King was honored with many prestigious awards: elected in 1962 to the highest honor that can come to a band director, the Academy of Wind and Percussion Arts, elected in 1966 to the Society of European Stage Actors and Composers, given in 1967 the Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity Distinguished Service Award, and in 1971, the Edwin Franco Goldman Award (the first non-school band director to receive this coveted award).

It is a testimony to his talents that so much of his music is still played today all over the world. At his death in 1971, Karl L. King was one of the most loved and respected figures in American music.

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