“A band leader with ‘a taste’ for music.”
Jimmy King was born in Winnipeg (St. James), Manitoba on April 26, 1920, and attended Bannatyne School and Linwood School. After several part-time jobs, including a road trip with a country and western band, he joined the Royal Canadian Artillery in 1940 and served overseas for five and a half years. He was a drill sergeant. Returning home after the Second World War, he decided he wanted a career in music. It began in 1950 with a brief engagement at Winnipeg’s Don Carlos night club. He knew then he didn’t want to be just a musician, he wanted to be the leader of the band.
In the early days he played in the house band at the Royal Alexandra Hotel at the corner of Higgins and Main. From the 1950s through 1960s, he sold pianos for the T. Eaton Company and organs at the Hammond organ outlet at Polo Park while playing weddings, corporate events, funerals, bar mitzvahs and various shows. He did occasional gigs at The Stage Door, a jazz club on Fort Street run by Jack Shapira. He later directed the Jimmy King Orchestra and the Golden Boy Brass but also took on smaller jobs such trios and piano bar gigs. In the summer he would often be seen performing at Assiniboine Park. He was equally proficient on the vibraphone and the marimbas as he was on the piano.
Along with his wife Fay, they had six children. The eldest, James, died in infancy. Raising five kids as a musician was not always easy as money was often tight. His family grew as did his reputation.
He wrote the entertainment column Night Beat for the Winnipeg Free Press for over 13 years covering the local music scene. King was no stranger to television either. From the mid-1960s to mid-1970s he was musical director for the CJAY (CKY) Talent Show. He was also the front man for musical programs such as Night Cap on CBWT (CBC) or Pan Americana along with well-known entertainer José Poneira during the Pan Am Games of 1967. In the ‘80s, he hosted his own TV show Downstairs at Jimmy King’s which allowed him a platform to showcase many musical acts, local and beyond. One such performer was guitarist Lenny Breau. And finally, he hosted Jimmy King Presents on CKND.
Playing in lounges and clubs, he might have finished his workday at midnight or later. That doesn’t factor in the times he showed up after work at one of the local bootleggers for what he diplomatically called “a taste.”
King never encouraged his children to pursue a career in show business knowing all the pitfalls that could befall them. Still, sometimes the apples never fall from the tree. His eldest son Bob became a successful musician and songwriter; David, who passed away in 2021, was an actor and playwright; Randy was an entertainment columnist and journalist for the Winnipeg Free Press; Ian worked in graphic arts and daughter Gini worked in accounting. (Randy would refer to her as the white sheep of the family.)
He was a long-time member of the Winnipeg Press Club and performed with the Jimmy King Trio for 25 years in its annual fundraising productions of “Beer and Skits”. Additionally, he was Club President of the Press Club from 1984 to 1985. He also served as President of the St. James Assiniboia Museum.
He died of cancer at Winnipeg on July 10, 1987.
Jim was a writer-broadcaster, producer and presenter on television and radio for 40 years. He is also a host on Lifestyles 55 Digital Radio. Find Radio Redux and Mid-Century Memories at www.whatsupwinnipeg.ca