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Marilyn King, the Last of the Singing King Sisters, Dies at 82

Marilyn King Sisters - H 2013
The King Family Archive/Polly O. Entertainment, LLC.
From left, The King Sisters circa 1965: Alyce, Marilyn, Yvonne and Luise.

She was the youngest of the siblings in the swing-era vocal group that released more than 150 records, toured for decades and appeared in films and on television.

Marilyn King, the youngest and last surviving member of the swing-era vocal group The King Sisters, died Wednesday of cancer in Laguna Niguel, Calif. She was 82.

King’s great-nephews are brothers Win and Will Butler of The Arcade Fire.

The King Sisters, originally from Utah and founded in 1931, appeared in several films and released more than 150 records for labels including Blue Bird, RCA Victor, Capitol and Warner Bros. throughout the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Marilyn began subbing for her sisters in their popular singing quartet (the original girls were Luise, Alyce, Donna and Yvonne) by age 13 at the height of the Big Band Era, and she officially joined the group in 1951. 

The family was the centerpiece of the popular 1960s ABC variety series The King Family Show as well as 17 King Family syndicated holiday specials throughout the years. The sisters toured for decades and made one of their final performances at the second inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in 1985.

Marilyn was instrumental in developing the group’s innovative four-part jazz vocal style. Their Capitol Records album Imagination was recorded with Alvino Rey and his orchestra and nominated for a Grammy in 1959. (Rey was married to Luise King.)

The tallest of the sisters, she was noted for the comedic repartee she shared with the much shorter Yvonne. 

King also was a composer, lyricist and arranger, and her songs included “The Thrill Was New” and “Hawaii Is Calling Me,” both featured on the sisters’ albums for Capitol.

King was born in Glendale in 1931. While her elder sisters took to the road, dad William King Driggs trained Marilyn in concert piano and opera and groomed her to be a classical performer. 

She would appear with the Alvino Rey Orchestra and as a soloist with influential bandleaders including Les Brown, Harry James and Ray Anthony.

As an actress, King appeared in stage productions of Guys and Dolls and Hello, Dolly! and worked as a voice-over artist, lending her singing to The Sound of Music (1965), which won an Oscar for best music. 

King also was a regular on Rey’s 1951 Emmy-winning TV series Ford Time and had stints on such shows as The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Laugh-In, M*A*S*H*, The Hollywood Palace and The Ed Sullivan Show.

She made her final television appearance in the 2009 PBS musical retrospective Christmas With the King Family.

Survivors also include her children Susannah and Adam, daughter and son of television syndication pioneer Howard Lloyd; Jennifer, a daughter of legendary Stan Kenton trombonist Kent Larsen; and seven grandchildren.

Funeral activities will take place at Forrest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills. In lieu of flowers, her family has requested that donations be sent to The Society of Singers charity in Sherman Oaks.