June 14, 2016
Ask any diehard football fan what Canton, Ohio is famous for and the reply is immediate: Pro Football Hall of Fame. As the founding city of the NFL (formerly the American Professional Football Association) in 1920, and home of one of the league's most successful early teams (the Canton Bulldogs), it's not surprising Canton's historical connection to the sport has eclipsed the city's rich musical legacy. But, just as Canton was pivotal to the formation of football as we know it today, it also produced one of America's most prolific march composers, Karl King.
Karl Lawrence King was born on February 21, 1891 in Paintersville, Ohio, a small town midway between Columbus and Cincinnati. As the son of a traveling salesman, Karl's early years were spent moving from town to town until the family settled in Canton in 1902. Shortly after his arrival in Canton, Karl obtained a job as a newspaper carrier and used his earnings to purchase his first musical instrument - a cornet. While most of Karl's education was heuristic, he did receive a few music lessons from Canton's leading rival bandmasters, Emil Reinkendorff and William Strassner. Emil Reinkendorff served as the leader of the Grand Army Band of the Republic (GAR), while William Strassner led the Thayer Military Band. These two rival bands directly competed with each other for engagements and often played for the same major events, despite having shared personnel. Karl's natural ability quickly earned him a place in both bands, where he was exposed to musical styles that would later influence his own compositions.
In 1910, at the age of 19, Karl left Canton to join the Barnum and Bailey circus band as a musician and conductor. Armed with only scant musical instruction (including four piano lessons and one harmony lesson), Karl began composing circus marches, also known as "screamers," for Barnum and Bailey as well as other circus troupes and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. King's tenure with the circus bands honed his skill as a march composer and he returned to Canton in 1919 to direct the Grand Army Band of the Republic. King was well-known for dedicating his compositions to musicians and organizations he performed with, and aside from his most famous composition, Barnum and Bailey's Favorite, Karl dedicated the following pieces to his fellow Canton musicians:
McKinley's Own March (1923): Dedicated to Emil Reinkendorff and the Grand Army Band of Canton
Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1910): Dedicated to the bass section of the Thayer 5th Regiment Band
Greater Canton March (1909): Dedicated to William Strassner, Thayer Military Bandmaster
Nazir Grotto March (1928): Dedicated to the Nazir Grotto Band of Canton, Ohio
Throughout Karl King's prolific career, he composed over 300 works including galops, waltzes, overtures, serenades, rags, and a whopping 188 marches and screamers. King's travels eventually led him to Fort Dodge, Iowa where he served as the conductor of the Fort Dodge Municipal Band, a position he held for 51 years. Karl King passed away on March 31, 1971 and his contribution to American band literature is rivaled only by that "other" march king, John Philip Sousa. And, it all began right here...in Canton, Ohio. So, the next time someone asks you what Canton's famous for, you can tell them our city is known for more than just football...
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