Yvonne King Burch, Star Of The Singing King Sisters and Producer/Host of Television’s The King Family Show

By: Dec. 15, 2009
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Yvonne King Burch, lead singer of the groundbreaking Grammy®-nominated swing era vocal group, The King Sisters, and pioneering creator and producer, of The King Family Show television series starring the successful multi-generational singing group, The King Family, passed away peacefully on December 13, 2009 in Santa Barbara, surrounded by her family, just one month shy of her 90th birthday.

She made her final appearance, with her family, in the 2009 public television special Christmas with the King Family. She was also in the midst of compiling a book of poems and love letters her husband, writer-producer Bill Burch had written to her throughout their 40 year romance.

Yvonne was born in Ephraim, Utah on January 20, 1920, the sixth of Pearl and William King Driggs' eight children. To augment King's teacher's salary, he taught his children to play instruments and formed "The Driggs Family of Entertainers" and toured the vaudeville circuit, theatres, schools and churches all over the West.

The three oldest sisters, Maxine, Luise and Alyce, formed a trio in the early 1930's. In 1934, the group became a quartet when Yvonne (age 14) and her sister Donna replaced eldest sister Maxine and became The Four King Sisters.

First recording and performing with the Horace Heidt Orchestra, the Sisters later toured with legendary trumpeter Artie Shaw before forming their own band with Luise's husband, guitarist and fellow Heidt - alum Alvino Rey. The Alvino Rey-King Sisters Orchestra became one of the leading attractions of the day on records, radio and the concert stage.

The Four King Sisters developed a signature vocal style, becoming the first female vocal group to perform jazz based four-part harmonies and recorded a score of hits for the RCA-Bluebird label including "Mairzy Doats," "Miss Otis Regrets," "Jersey Bounce" and the "Hut-Sut Song." Thirteen of their recordings made the top 30 between 1941 and 1945. 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 our GI's heard before lights out.

Hollywood beckoned and Yvonne, along with her sisters, appeared in numerous films including Cuban Pete with Desi Arnaz and Sing Your Worries Away with Buddy Ebsen.

Television offered a new era of opportunity and the Sisters, now with Marilyn replacing Donna, appeared on the premiere television programs of the day including The Nat "King" Cole Show, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet and several appearances on The Steve Allen Show while scoring their own musical showcase The Alvino Rey-King Sisters Show on NBC in 1954.

Signed to Capitol Records in 1957, The King Sisters redefined their sound by lowering their tight four-part harmonies creating a unique and potent musical blend that earned them a Grammy® nomination for their turntable hit, Imagination, in 1959 and the honor of being selected "All Time Greats' - Best Female Vocal Group of All Time" by a distinguished panel of experts including Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle and Elmer Bernstein.

The King Sisters became a top attraction performing to great acclaim in the major nightclubs of the Unites States and in premiere concert venues around the world.

In 1963, Yvonne conceived and produced what would later become a television sensation when she 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 with the added 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 Yvonne used that film to present to ABC-TV as a unique concept for a new TV variety show featuring a real family.

Following multiple appearances on ABC's The Hollywood Palace, The King Family headlined their own special on August 29, 1964. Public response to that initial TV outing was record-breaking, with the network receiving over 54,000 letters of fan support for the newly crowned TV stars. Throughout the ‘60's and ‘70's, the special's success spawned two separate 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 legendary Ed Sullivan Show.

Yvonne was always at the center of the King Family's performing success both behind-the-scenes, serving as producer, and in front of the camera as the host and, along with her sisters, star of the musical shows; a role she would assume once again for the Family's 2009 public television special, Christmas with the King Family, on which she served as Associate Producer.

Christened "America's First Family of Song" throughout their performing heyday, The King Family, which featured Yvonne's two daughters with musician Buddy Cole, actress Tina Cole (who later starred on the sitcom My Three Sons) and singer Cathy Cole Green, performed with entertainment greats including Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller and George Burns and headlined popular concert engagements including two sold-out appearances at The Hollywood Bowl. They also recorded five albums for the Warner Bros. record label.

Yvonne married William "Bill" Burch in 1966 and the couple enjoyed a loving and affectionate partnership for nearly four decades until Burch's passing in 2005. Mr. Burch also served as a writer and director on many of the King Family's specials.

The King Family continued to appear together in concert and on television throughout the 1970's and Yvonne capped over five decades of performing when The King Sisters appeared at President Reagan's 1985 inaugural celebration.

Speaking of the Family's breakout success earlier this year she reflected, "Recently I thought...doing those shows was a gift from God. I didn't go out to make money. I didn't go out to make a big deal out of it...it was just something that happened...it just happened and brought our family memories that will last a lifetime."

Yvonne is survived by her daughters, Tina Cole of Sacramento, California, Cathy Green and her husband James Green of Santa Barbara, California; sister Marilyn King of Los Angeles, California; stepdaughter Cilla Reid and her husband Richard; stepson Charles Burch; six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and nephews, nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces now numbering in the hundreds. All have promised to carry on the Family's musical legacy.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Photo credit: The King Family Archive


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