King Cousins reunite to sing their ‘sunshine pop’ at Utah show

First Published      Last Updated Jun 01 2015 09:06 am

Music » The cousins, now grandmothers, are part of Utah music royalty.

Before the Houghs, before the Osmonds, the Kings were Utah's royal entertainment family.

In the mid-1960s, "The King Family" TV show spotlighted something rare: three generations of musical talent in one big Mormon family of blondes.

The show aired Saturday nights on ABC, right before "The Lawrence Welk Show." "We always introduced them, said: 'Stay tuned for The Lawrence Welk Show,' " says Tina Cole, the lead singer of The Four King Cousins, who are returning to Utah for a reunion show on Saturday.

While younger generations tend to get the two shows confused, the Kings had a hipper element. That was thanks to the girl cousins, who wore go-go boots and sang contemporary hits in tight harmonies that were dubbed "sunshine pop."

The girls came onstage to join their famous Grammy-nominated mothers, The King Sisters, known for their Big Band and swing hits. The girls wore bouffant flips and miniskirts while their mothers wore stacked beehive hairstyles and evening dresses by Bob Mackie, later famously known as the costume designer for Cher and Carol Burnett.

Together all those blondes would sing a duet. "It was a cute generational display of musical talent," says another cousin, composer Lex de Azevedo. "They're very good, even if they are my cousins."

The TV show and specials revolved around the King Sisters, Yvonne, Alyce, Luise and Marilyn, and Luise's husband's band, The Alvino Rey Orchestra. Also featured on the show was patriarch William King Driggs, as well as husbands, siblings and children, 39 in all, including a baby who made an early appearance at 7 months.

The family's musical legacy bridges generations and genres, says KUER host Steve Williams, who became close to Luise King and Rey after the couple retired to Utah. At Rey's funeral in 2004, Williams remembers chatting about Big Band music with Thomas Monson, now president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Kings' music was "as pure Americana as lemonade on a porch swing in the hot days of summer," says TJ Lubinsky, executive producer of the PBS series "My Music," which will air a "Sister Acts" special on KBYU on Friday.

"We were actually the first family on television," says Cole, also an actor, who played Katie for five seasons on "My Three Sons." "We were a real family, not just a collection of singers. What we did on our show was really an extension of what we did at home. A lot of people thought it was corny, but it was real."

Corny, maybe, but unabashedly Mormon, and on TV the family remained proud of their Utah pioneer roots, which they spotlighted by singing the LDS hymn "Love at Home" to cap every show. "We've sung it thousands and thousands of times, all over the world," says cousin Ric de Azevedo.

"For many Latter-day Saints, 'The King Family Show' was right up there next to Sunday School and Family Home Evening," adds his brother Lex de Azevedo.

The family's music career began with William King Driggs, a Brigham Young Academy student-body president who planned to become an opera singer. That dream was derailed by the birth of the first of eight children. Instead, the family settled in Pleasant Grove, where he became music teacher and choir director. He taught his children to play instruments and formed a vaudeville act that toured Utah.

"My mother started singing, actually performing, when she was 4," says Cole of her mother, Yvonne, the seventh child in the Driggs Family of Entertainers. During the Depression, admission to the shows was a pin, de Azevedo remembers his grandfather saying.

The sisters launched their career as a group on KSL radio in the 1930s and became stars, going on to release more than 150 records over the next three decades. The King Sisters were as big as the Andrews Sisters and had a recording career that spanned 50 years, says Lex de Azevedo.

The network TV show grew out of a pair of legendary fundraising concerts by the King Sisters in Utah, starting in the 1940s to raise money to build the Brigham Young University fieldhouse. In 1963, the family reunited there for a benefit to raise money for the football stadium.

That show — "no sets, no curtains, nothing," Cole remembers — was filmed by a student for the archives, but the tape ended up in the hands of TV producers. That launched a 1964 special, and then the TV series, which ran from January 1965 to January 1966, and a 1969 revival, as well as a series of specials.

The cousins might have grown up like brothers and sisters in California show-business families, but before the TV show, few received much formal musical training, beyond listening to their mothers rehearse. "We'd be playing, and we could hear them fighting over who got the hot notes," Cole says.

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Utah’s royal musical legacy

The Four King Cousins — sisters Tina Cole and Cathy Cole Green, along with Candy Conkling Brand and Carolyn Thomas Cameron — perform a reunion concert. The cousins performed on television and on concert tours with The King Family, and their uncle, jazz band leader and guitarist Alvino Rey, in the 1960s and ’70s. The family’s musical legacy continues with their nephews Win and Will Butler, of the rock group Arcade Fire.

When » Saturday, June 6, 7:30 p.m.

Where » Grand Theatre, 1575 S. State St., Salt Lake City

Tickets » $20-$25 ($3 fee for phone orders; $5 online; ask for student, senior or military discounts) 801-957-3322 or the-grand.org/events/current/fourkingcousins

Also » KBYU will air a PBS “My Music” special, “Sister Acts,” hosted by Tina Cole (who played Katie on TV’s “My Three Sons”) at 8 p.m. Friday, June 5.