Your Mother Should Know

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(Pictured: the King Sisters with some of the rest of the family.)

I cannot say how anybody else’s blogging process works, but mine frequently goes like this: I’ll see something and think, “Hmm, that might be interesting to write about.” Sometimes I follow through right away, but more often, I don’t, and the idea vanishes. When I do follow through, however, it’s often because I saw the same thing again in some other context a day or two later. And that is why you are reading this:

You need to be relatively elderly for the King Family to ring a bell. They came out of California in the 1930s as the Four King Sisters, who had been performing with other family members since they were children. In the late 30s, they were featured singers with Horace Heidt’s big band, and later with the band led by Alvino Rey, who was Louise King’s husband. Between 1941 and 1945, they charted a few singles under their own name, although the records tended to be competing versions of songs that were more popular by other artists. They also appeared in several movies. By 1953, the group had expanded beyond the sisters and was being billed as the King Family. In 1958, their album Imagination got a Grammy nomination for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus.

The King Sisters had appeared on Alvino Rey’s TV show as early as 1953. In 1963, Yvonne King pitched ABC on a variety series for the family. The network didn’t bite at first, but when a 1964 appearance on Hollywood Palace generated thousands of fan letters, ABC gave the King Family a special and eventually, a weekly series, beginning in January 1965. In its two seasons, The King Family Show would include 39 family members ranging in age from seven months to 79 years. Four of them spun off into a group called the Four King Cousins, who became regulars on the Kraft Summer Music Hall in 1966. (The show’s head writer was a guy named George Carlin; one episode included another up-and-comer named Richard Pryor. Read about it here.) The family’s 1967 Thanksgiving and Christmas specials were big hits, and were repeated annually for years thereafter. They got another brief weekly series in 1969, but their main presence on TV was in specials, which ran through 1974.

Apart from those hit singles in the early 40s, the Kings’ only other chart appearances came in 1965, when two albums made the Billboard chart on the strength of their TV show. The more successful, The King Family Show!, went to #34 in a 16-week run.

By the dawn of the disco era, the King Family was no longer the kind of thing that drew big network numbers, but they remained a popular concert attraction for a few years. They played Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985. Their last performance was at Yvonne King’s funeral in 2010. Marilyn King, the last of the original sisters, died in 2013. The Four King Cousins were still performing occasionally as recently as 2016.

The King Family dropped stones into the pop-music pond that are still creating ripples. King Cousin Tina Cole became a regular on My Three Sons toward the end of the 60s. Alyce King’s son, Lex De Azevedo, was a successful composer, arranger, and bandleader. (I first learned of him at the elevator-music station, where his orchestra provided custom music for the programming service we used.) Luise King’s grandsons, Win and Will Butler, are members of Arcade Fire. Several King Family specials have been released on DVD. The family has a website and a YouTube channel, as well as a presence on social media. Christmas With the King Family was revived by PBS in 2009, and is still being repeated annually on the GetTV diginet.

A half-century ago, if a comedian wanted an easy punch line lampooning A) square white-bread Americans or B) large families, the King Family was sitting right there. (Although as regards wholesomeness, all those brothers and sisters and cousins implied that the patriarchs and matriarchs of the King Family were horizontally bopping as enthusiastically as the hippies were.) Nevertheless, in the chaos of the late 60s, the King Family presented an oasis of old-fashioned entertainment, where rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles did not intrude and longhairs did not agitate for anarchy. Its appeal to the Silent Majority is easy to understand.

A clip from the 1965 premiere of The King Family Show, introduced by Bing Crosby, is here. A 1966 performance of “Yesterday” by the King Sisters is here. The Four King Cousins perform a 1969 medley keyed to the Beatles’ “Your Mother Should Know” here. The opening of the 1967 Christmas special is here.

7 thoughts on “Your Mother Should Know

  1. This was an education for me, as I knew nothing about the performers.
    Unfortunately, I have to confess that I spent the entire thing spinning dirty riffs on the phrase “Four King Sisters” (i.e., an angry producer slurring the words, “WHERE’S THOSE FOUR KING SISTERS?”), followed by similarly juvenile variants on the phrase “Four King Cousins.”
    (Writing about the cultural straight and narrow does not guarantee that your readers will behave straight or narrow.)

    I would love to know more about the deluge of letters to the network in 1964. I imagine such things were frequently ginned up by press agents; I wonder if the networks had a policy of ignoring any “spontaneous flood” of fewer than, say, 250 letters.

    1. I was/am skeptical of the “thousands” of letters claim myself, although it’s repeated in a lot of online sources, in that way that they cannibalize one another, but even on the official Family pages. So I left it in.

      In an era when social media communication is so cheap and easy, we have forgotten that people once sat down at the typewriter, hammered out their thoughts on a sheet of paper, folded it up, put it in an envelope, went to the trouble of finding the address to send it to, stamped it, and mailed it. Or that they went to the trouble of sending and the expense of paying for telegrams.

  2. TimMoore

    I think we had a couple of their albums in the old stereo cabinet growing up early 60s.. just on the fringe of my mind

  3. mikehagerty

    My grandmother LOVED the King Family. She’d be (no joke) 130 if she were alive today.

    Remarkably, I just heard them mentioned recently—on an aircheck. Jimmy O’Neill on KFWB on December 30, 1966. O’Neill had recently been the winning bachelor on ABC’s The Dating Game and the date (arranged by the show’s producers) included seeing the King Family in concert at Melodyland, a theater-in-the round in Anaheim and meeting them backstage afterward. The youngest member of the family (age 5) asked Jimmy to play a Herman’s Hermits record on his show.

    Melodyland opened in 1963, closed and was turned into a church in 1969. In 2003, the church moved to neighboring Tustin and the Anaheim GardenWalk was built. The House of Blues now sits where Melodyland was.

  4. porky

    You should mention that Alvino Rey led the band with his steel guitar. My dad saw his orchestra in Chicago playing between a double feature when the world used to consist of things like that. Alvino had a “talk box” effect, similar to what Peter Frampton and others made hay with in the 70’s.

  5. mackdaddyg

    If memory serves correctly, the Four King Cousins put out an lp on Capitol in the late 60s that I think is a minor fave of Sunshine Pop fans.

  6. Pingback: Work Ethic of a Hobo – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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