Wayne King was born Harold Wayne King in Savanna, Illinois at 600 Bowen Street, February 18, 1901. Wayne was the fourth son of Harvey and Ida King. He played in the Savanna Town Band when he was eleven years old with his Uncle Charles Seitzburg and his older brothers Lyle and Fay King. Wayne played clarinet with his brothers and other Savannans in the King Brothers’ Jazz Band. It was at this time that Blanche Altenbern Lantau, formerly of Lanark, played piano at the Pulford Opera House with Wayne King in Savanna. Frank “Bud” Riddle of Savanna told me in September, 1999 that he remembered when Wayne was a teenager, he climbed over the Riddle’s fence into his mother’s apple tree. Bud says he recalls his mother chasing young Wayne out of the apple tree with a broom. After high school graduation in 1920, probably in the fall of 1921, In 1921, Wayne went to Chicago to work and school at Valparaiso University nearby in Indiana.
An October, 1924, Savanna Times Journal newspaper article describes Wayne King and some other 1920 Savanna Township High School graduates returning to put on an aerial passing attack against the 1924 football team. Wayne King played quarterback and full back during the 1919 season. While attending Valparaiso University, working for an insurance firm and as a garage and railroad mechanic, he commuted nightly to playing jobs with local Chicago jazz bands. Soon, Wayne began playing with the Del Lampe Orchestra at the Trianon Ballroom on the South side of Chicago. While playing for Lampe, Wayne became rated as one of the best jazz saxophonist in Chicago. When the new Aragon Ballroom was opened in 1927. Del Lampe formed a second band, fronted by Wayne King, that broadcasted live over WGN radio. Wayne King’s first recording was “To Be Forgotten.” But Wayne King has not been forgotten. In 1999, you can still purchase selected Wayne King CD Album’s in many music stores. However, in Illinois and Iowa it’s difficult to get someone to part with any 78 rpm records made by Wayne King. In 1931 Wayne King began a weekly local commercial radio show in Chicago for which he was paid $500 per program. Soon King’s program, “The Lady Esther Serenade” became so popular that it graduated to one of the most-listened-to programs in America. Wayne King, a hard-nosed businessman, was earning $15,000 a week in lawful money as the banks were failing across America. Wayne’s sweet music made his orchestra one of America’s most successful big bands throughout the 1930’s. His success continued after most of his contemporaries stopped playing as Wayne King and Chorus played on CBS radio and NBC radio/television into the 1950’s. Oct. 16, 1999, I spoke with Ellis Stukenberg who played drums in 1953 for Wayne King in the Merchandise Mart NBS television studios in Chicago. Ellis indicated that Wayne King had become wealthy initially by accepting stock in the brother-sister cosmetic start-up that sponsored Wayne’s Lady Esther Serenade radio show. The brother-sister start-up had sought Wayne King to help market there new cosmetic products. Ellis also stated that by 1953, it was difficult to work for Wayne King. Wayne was very demanding as was typical of most successful big band leaders. However, Wayne King kept many of his sidemen for decades as he continued to play engagements and tours through the 1970’s and until 1983 when Wayne fully retired. Wayne King and Orchestra returned to Savanna to close out his career in April 1981 at Savanna Community High School. The gymnasium was full for Savanna Township High School’s best known graduate. I was 23 years-old and drove ninety miles to hear the last three songs of the evening. More history of Wayne King’s childhood years, early career, war years, and activities in the 1960’s and 70’s will be added from time to time.