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Karl King score collection

 Collection 0187-SCPA
Karl L. King was an American bandmaster and composer of band and circus music. A baritone player in several town and circus bands, King served as Bandmaster for Barnum andamp; Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth from 1917 to 1918, and became leader of the Fort Dodge Military Band in 1920. In addition, King was one of the founders of the American Bandmasters Association, and was named honorary life president in 1967. King composed many pieces, most notably the march Barnum andamp; Bailey’s Favorite, as well as pieces for many American universities and school bands. The Karl King score collection consists of 245 scores published by K.L. King Music, C.L. Barnhouse, J.E. Agnew, and the Fillmore Bros. Co., among other publishing houses. Compositions date from 1909 to 1955; the bulk of those published by K.L. King Music are undated. Also included in the collection are biographical materials, photographs, a program, and correspondence donated by Mrs. Shirley Ryon.


  • 1909-1955
  • Majority of material found within 1909-1955

Use and Access to Collection

The collection is open for research use. Karl King scores are searchable and can be requested through the SCPA Score Collections database.

Materials from this collection may be borrowed for two months by UMD students, staff, or faculty, as well as by members of the American Bandmasters Association. For all others, the materials may be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room during SCPA’s operating hours. Please contact the curator for an appointment or if you have questions related to digital access of the materials.


4.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Karl King score collection covers the period from 1909 to 1979, with the bulk of the materials from 1909 to 1955. The collection consists primarily of 245 scores published by K.L. King Music, C.L. Barnhouse, J.E. Agnew, and the Fillmore Bros. Co. Also included in the collection are biographical materials, photographs, a program, and correspondence donated by Mrs. Shirley Ryon dating between 1917 and 1979.


Karl Lawrence King (1891-1971) was born in Paintersville, Ohio. His family moved to Xenia a short time later, and later Canton, Ohio. After receiving some instruction on the cornet, King switched to baritone. His first band experience was with the Thayer Military Band of Canton, while in his teens. In 1909 King spent some time as a member of bands in Columbus and also Danville, Illinois. While a member of these bands, King began to compose marches and other works. Beginning in 1910, King began a decade-long career as a circus musician, spending one season each as a baritone player in the bands of Robinson's Famous Circus, Yankee Robinson Circus, Sells Floto Circus, and the Barnum and Bailey "Greatest Show On Earth." He continued to write music while a member of these bands, and in 1913 wrote what would become his masterpiece, "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite."

In 1914 King accepted the position as bandleader on the Sells Floto/Buffalo Bill Combined Shows, a position he would hold for three seasons. In 1917 and 1918 he returned to the Barnum and Bailey Circus band, this time as its leader and conductor. After marrying, King ended his circus days and returned to Canton in 1919, where he led the Grand Army Band. In 1920 King relocated to Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he assumed leadership of the municipal band and operated his own publishing company, the K. L. King Music House. As a composer, King was one of the most prolific and popular in the history of band music. He composed at least 291 works, including 185 marches, 22 overtures, 12 galops, 29 waltzes, and works in many other styles. It was during his time as director of the Fort Dodge municipal band that King became a member of the prestigious American Bandmasters Association. He served as ABA President in 1938 and was later named an Honorary Life President. He lived in Fort Dodge for the remainder of his life, passing away on March 31, 1971. His Fort Dodge band was subsequently renamed the "Karl L. King Municipal Band" in his honor.


This collection is arranged into five series.
  1. Biographical materials
  2. Correspondence
  3. Programs
  4. Photographs
  5. Scores

Related Material

American Bandmasters Association records, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland Libraries. (finding aid)
Karl King score collection
Nicole Horstman
May 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library

University of Maryland Libraries
8270 Alumni Drive
College Park MD 20742 United States