King Sister Yvonne King Burch dies at 89

Group's lead singer also created TV's 'The King Family Show'

Yvonne King Burch, lead singer of the groundbreaking swing-era vocal group the King Sisters and the creator of television's "The King Family Show," died Dec. 13 in Santa Barbara. She was 89.

King Burch made her final appearance with her family in the PBS special this year, "Christmas With the King Family." She was in the midst of compiling a book of poems and love letters that her husband, writer-producer Bill Burch, had written to her throughout their 40-year romance. He died in 2005.

In 1963, King Burch asked her family to join the King Sisters in concert for a series of benefit performances for their church. Billed as the King Family, the group featured the four sisters plus the talents of 36 of their brothers, sisters, spouses and all their children along with the family patriarch, King Driggs.

Their performance for Brigham Young University was filmed by the school's media department, and King Burch used that film to present to ABC as a concept for a TV variety show featuring a real family.

Following multiple appearances on ABC's "The Hollywood Palace," the family headlined their own special in August 1964. Throughout the '60s and '70s, the special spawned two King Family variety series, 17 King Family specials, numerous national concert tours (including King Family Day at the New York World's Fair) and several appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

The centerpiece of the act was created when the three oldest sisters, Maxine, Luise and Alyce, formed a trio in the early 1930s. In 1934, the group became a quartet when Yvonne, then 14, and her sister Donna replaced eldest sister Maxine.

The Four King Sisters later toured with legendary trumpeter Artie Shaw before forming their own band with Alvino Rey, Luise's husband and guitarist. The Alvino Rey-King Sisters Orchestra became a leading attraction on records, radio and in concert.

The Four King Sisters became the first female vocal group to perform jazz-based four-part harmonies and recorded hits including "Mairzy Doats," "Miss Otis Regrets," "Jersey Bounce" and the "Hut-Sut Song." Thirteen of their recordings made the top 30 between 1941-45.

The diminutive Yvonne, nicknamed "Vonnie," was often affectionately referred to by audiences as "the cute little blonde on the end." Her solo vocal hit "Nighty-Night" became a wartime favorite; it was played by Armed Forces Radio as the last song GIs heard before lights out.

The sisters also appeared in numerous movies, including "Sing Your Worries Away" (1942) with Buddy Ebsen and "Cuban Pete" (1946) with Desi Arnaz.

King Burch is survived by her daughters, Tina Cole and Cathy Green, and Green's husband, James Green; sister Marilyn King; stepdaughter Cilla Reid and her husband Richard; stepson Charles Burch; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and nephews, nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces numbering in the hundreds.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.