This post has been updated. See note below for details.
Marilyn King, the youngest and last surviving member of the King Sisters family vocal group that starred in its own musical-variety television series and in a long string of holiday TV specials, died Wednesday in Laguna Niguel following a battle with cancer. She was 82.
“The King Family Show” aired in 1965, 1966 and 1969, and after the series ended, the Kings maintained a regular presence on national television with their holiday specials. The group began in the 1930s, assembled by their father, William King Driggs, who was a college voice trainer.
They were billed early on as the Six King Sisters, and sang with Horace Heidt’s orchestra in Chicago, before paring down to a quartet featuring Marilyn’s older sisters Alyce, Donna, Luise and Yvonne, who earned considerable respect and commercial success with their jazz harmonies.
Marilyn began subbing into the group when she was 13 and became a full-fledged member in 1951. The King Sisters performed and recorded often with bandleader Alvino Rey, who married Luise King. Before Marilyn was in the group full time, the sisters appeared in several films and were regulars on Kay Kyser’s radio show in 1944.
After Marilyn was on board, they recorded the album “Imagination” for Capitol, one that earned the Kings a Grammy nomination in 1959, the year they also topped Playboy’s jazz poll.
When they landed the TV series in 1965, Alyce King told The Times, “Dad always wanted us to be in vaudeville but we came along too late for that era. Now we’re finally doing what was Dad’s idea back in about 1922.”
The TV show featured several generations of the King family and included more than three dozen members of the clan. The King Family tradition has extended through successive generations, and Marilyn King’s grand nephews are Win and Will Butler of Arcade Fire, another large ensemble in pop music.
The family started out in Utah but Marilyn King was born on May 11, 1931, in Glendale after the Kings moved to California. She also was a songwriter who contributed original material for some of their albums. Her songs included “The Thrill Was New” and “Hawaii Is Calling Me.”
“The King Family Show!” album in 1965 made it to No. 34 on Billboard’s national album chart, and its successor, “The King Family Album” reached No. 142 nationally later that year.
Marilyn also worked as an actress and singer in stage productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “Hello, Dolly!” The King Family made one of its final performances in 1985 for President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration for his second term in office.
She is survived by three children: Susannah Lloyd Foshée and Adam Lloyd, daughter and son of television syndication pioneer Howard Lloyd; Jennifer Larsen Staves, the daughter of Stan Kenton band trombonist Kent Larsen, and seven grandchildren.
Funeral services will take place at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills. In lieu of flowers her family has requested donations be sent to the Society of Singers in Sherman Oaks, a charity she had long been associated with.
Here's their performance of the Beatles' "Yesterday" on the show from 1966:
Update at 12:16 p.m.: An earlier version of this post identified Marilyn King as the youngest of the King Family singers. She was the youngest of the King Sisters family vocal group.
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