The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
King, Karl Lawrence
(February 21, 1891–March 31, 1971)

–band leader and composer—was born in Paintersville, Ohio. His early musical training was from Emile Reinkendorff, director of the GAR Band in Canton, Ohio, and from William Strassner, director of the Thayer Military Band. In 1909 King joined the Fred Neddermeyer Band of Columbus, Ohio, but shortly thereafter he joined the band of Robinson's Famous Circus as a baritone horn player. For the next 10 years King played baritone and trumpet in and also conducted a variety of circus bands, including Sells Floto, Buffalo Bill Combined Shows, and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Although he had no formal training in conducting, he became famous throughout the United States for his band conducting.

    But he is even better known as a composer of band music. By the end of his career he had composed almost 300 pieces, including marches, gallops, rags, hops, waltzes, serenades, and other types of music. King rivals John Philip Sousa as a composer of band music, and actually composed more pieces than Sousa. Many of King's pieces were for specific occasions or specific bands, such as "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite March" and "Iowa Band Law March."His compositions were intended to be played by a seated band, not by a marching unit, and he did not limit himself to military music but also wrote "good-sounding, easy marches for high school bands."As a baritone player himself, King was especially fond of writing music that featured low brass players.

    During the summer of 1920, the conductor of the Fort Dodge Military Band left unexpectedly. In order to attract a new conductor, the band's sponsor, the Fort Dodge Commercial Club, pledged to raise $5,000 for new uniforms for the 1921 season. Before the summer ended, King arrived in Fort Dodge and conducted a demonstration concert. The music he chose–including two of his own compositions, "The Royal Scotch Highlanders" and "Autumn Romance"—was challenging. The performance impressed the members of the band and the club, and he was offered a one-year contract. That contract was renewed, and King remained in Fort Dodge until his death 50 years later. By 1923 King had started his own music publishing business, and his wife, Ruth, had opened a music store. The couple entered into the social and commercial life of the city and rapidly became well known throughout the state.

    During his 50 years as a conductor in Fort Dodge, King led the band in concerts at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota; at dozens of county fairs; and numerous times at the Iowa State Fair. Through his compositions and guest conducting contracts, King became nationally and internationally famous, and the Fort Dodge Military Band became one of the most popular in Iowa. He was a charter member of the American Bandmasters Association and the Iowa Bandmasters Association and was second president of the latter group. After the Iowa Band Law passed in 1921, the Fort Dodge Military Band became the Fort Dodge Municipal Band, a name it retained until after King's death in 1971. During his career, King received many awards. In 1949 he was inducted into Phi Beta Mu, the National Bandmasters fraternity. In 1951 he was named Iowa's Outstanding Citizen. Phillips University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 1953; in 1959 the American Bandmasters Association presented him with its Distinguished Service Award; and in 1961 it granted him Honorary Life Presidency, an honor he shared with John Philip Sousa and Edwin Franko Goldman. In 1962 the Iowa Department of Transportation named the new bridge over the Des Moines River in Fort Dodge the Karl L. King Bridge. On his 80th birthday, the American School Band Directors Association presented King with the Edwin Franko Goldman Award, its highest honor.

    The concert King conducted for his own 80th birthday included five pieces he composed, including "Iowa Centennial March."His legacy lived on after him when the Karl L. King Municipal Band of Fort Dodge appeared twice in Washington, D.C.–in the Kennedy Center and on the steps of the Capitol–on "Iowa Day" during the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. To celebrate Iowa's sesquicentennial in 1996, the band performed a series of concerts on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Sources More biographical information is in Thomas J. Hatton, Hawkeye Glory: The History of the Karl L. King Municipal Band of Fort Dodge, Iowa (2002).
Contributor: Loren N. Horton