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'King Sister' Yvonne dies at 89

By Alan Duke, CNN
Yvonne King Burch is shown here circa 1965 in the center between sisters  Alyceas and Luise.
Yvonne King Burch is shown here circa 1965 in the center between sisters Alyceas and Luise.
  • Yvonne King Burch, a member of The King Sisters, has died, her family said
  • The family singing group was a sensation in the 1940s, 50s and 60s
  • The groups popularity was aided by their starring in their own television specials

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Yvonne King Burch, a leading voice and driving force in "America's First Family of Song," died this week just a month short of her 90th birthday, her family said.

Known by family and friends as "Vonnie," she began her singing career in 1934 when she joined sisters Luise, Alyce and Donna to form The Four King Sisters.

Her last performance was this month for a public television special, "Christmas with the King Family."

She was surrounded by family when she "passed away peacefully" at a Santa Barbara, California, hospital on Sunday, a family spokesman said.

The King Sisters developed a signature four-part-harmony vocal style that dominated American pop charts during World War II. Their classic hits included "Mairzy Doats," "Miss Otis Regrets," "Jersey Bounce" and the "Hut-Sut Song."

Yvonne King -- known as "the cute little blonde on the end" -- also recorded, as a solo artist, the wartime hit "Nighty-Night." Armed Forces Radio often played it as the last song before signing off at the end of a broadcast day, the family spokesman said.

On the PBS 2009 Christmas special, which is airing across the United States this month, she sang "Winter Wonderland" with the whole family and one verse of "Ain't We Got Fun" with her sister Marilyn at the end of the program. She also served as associate producer of the show.

"This would essentially be the last 'King Sisters' performance ever," family spokesman Shane Rosamonda said.

"Recently I thought doing those shows was a gift from God," Yvonne King said in a 2009 interview. "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."

The King Sisters hit Hollywood during the 1940s to co-star in films, including "Cuban Pete" with Desi Arnaz and "Sing Your Worries Away" with Buddy Ebsen.

Their success continued into the television era, when younger sister Marilyn joined the quartet -- replacing Donna. They were frequent guests on the top shows of the 1950s, leading to their own musical showcase -- "The Alvino Rey-King Sisters Show" on NBC in 1954.

The sisters changed their sound by lowering their harmonies in 1957, when they signed a new contract with Capitol Records. The 1959 hit "Imagination" was one result.

The King Family became a television sensation in the 1960s when the sisters were joined by 36 family members -- brothers, sisters, spouses, children and family patriarch King Driggs. The sisters' stage name had been taken from Driggs, their father.

Their ABC television specials, conceived by Yvonne King in 1963, led to two separate King family variety series, 17 King family specials, numerous national concert tours and several appearances on the legendary "Ed Sullivan Show," a family statement said.

"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," the family said.

William "Bill" Burch, whom she married in 1966, died in 2005.

The months before her death were spent compiling a book of poems and love letters given her by Burch, the family spokesman said.

Her survivors include sister Marilyn King, daughters Cathy Cole Green and Tina Cole, Tina Cole is known for her role as "Katie Douglas" on the 1960s ABC television sitcom "My Three Sons."

A private memorial service will be held at a later date, the family said.