The King Sisters
The King Sisters were a Big Band-era vocal group comprised of sisters from the Driggs family—members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each of the six sisters—Maxine, Luise, Alyce, Donna, Yvonne, and Marilyn—sang with the group at one time, but the group generally consisted of four singers. They had two other siblings, Karleton and Bill.
They were born and raised in Pleasant Grove, Utah, about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City. For fourteen years, their father, William King Driggs Sr. (known as King), was a professor of music and a voice teacher at several colleges in Colorado and Utah. He was also the first music teacher for his six children, as he taught them how to sing and play various instruments. As the economic limitations of the Depression weighed upon the large family, he supplemented the family income by performing with his family as The Driggs Family of Entertainers. They traveled throughout the West on the weekends and during the summers and performed in theaters, clubs, schools, and churches. The family eventually relocated to Oakland, California where making a living as a music teacher was more feasible and attainable.
The Driggs Sisters Make Their Debut
In Oakland, while still in junior high school, the three elder daughters — Maxine, Luise, and Alyce — began performing as a trio. According to Alyce (King) Clarke, the trio was organized by their father "to break up the girls' arguing and fighting while they did the families' dishes." They debuted on on Oakland radio station KLX in 1931. As it was the depression era, it became impossible for their father to make a living as a teacher, so the scanty income that the sisters earned from their radio show, a mere $25 per week (collectively), became the sole income to support the family.
- Performing three times a week, with their brother Karleton as their piano accompanist, the girls came up with their arrangements themselves, using the training they’d gotten from their father. Like most singing sisters, the Driggs Sisters idolized the successful Boswell Sisters and tried to emulate their heroines by learning their songs and arrangements. The girls would rush home from school and faithfully tune in KFWB from Los Angeles to hear the Boswells sing their trend-setting harmonies.
A Promising Career
When the family moved to Salt Lake City in 1932, the trio became regulars on KSL. Their 15-minute program was aired 5 times per week, and they were paid $10 a show. Their small income was used to support their family which was still growing.
While singing for KSL, the group changed their name to the King Sisters at the request of the station manager. In 1934, bandleader Horace Heidt heard one of their broadcasts and convinced their parents to let them go to San Francisco for a two-week engagement at the Golden Gate Theater. Their four to five shows a day, seven days a week performance schedule became exhausting and the two weeks turned into five years. They later toured with Artie Shaw and then Alvino Rey, whom Luise had married, and his orchestra. An opportunity came to join the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but they stayed with Rey until the outbreak of World War II dissolved the orchestra.
After Maxine retired, sisters Donna and Yvonne joined the group, making it a quartet. They recorded many hit records for RCA. Thirteen of their recordings placed in the top 30 between 1941 and 1945. The group also appeared in Hollywood films such as Cuban Pete, Meet the People, and Thrill of Romance. When Donna retired, Marilyn joined the group. In 1953, NBC offered the King Sisters and Alvino Rey their own television show, which was successful and brought them to the attention of Capitol Records and led them to a Grammy nomination. They also appeared on several variety shows, such as The Steve Allen Show.
A Family Affair
During the 1960s, the sisters put on benefit shows at Brigham Young University and their families joined them on stage. Yvonne sent a tape of one of the shows to ABC, which led to the creation of The King Family Show in 1965. The King Family enjoyed success on television until their show was canceled in 1969, but they continued to perform in television specials and in concerts throughout the 1970s.
A Long Remembered Legacy
Alyce King Clarke died on 23 August 1996, from respiratory problems, aged 81. Luise King Rey died on 4 August 1997, aged 83, from cancer, the year of her 60th wedding anniversary to Alvino Rey. Donna King Conkling died on 16 June 2007, aged 88, in Plano, Texas. Maxine King Thomas died on 13 May 2009, aged 97 in Corona, California. Yvonne "Vonnie" King Burch died on 13 December 2009, aged 89, after suffering a fall at her home in Santa Barbara, California. Marilyn King died on 7 August 2013, aged 82, from cancer, also in California; she was the last surviving sister.