64 Parishes

Claude King

Born in Keithville, musician Claude King saw success on stage and screen.

Claude King

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Digital Archive

Claude King performing at the Grand Ole Opry, 1981.

Claude King was born on February 5, 1923, in Keithville, south of Shreveport in Caddo Parish. Purchasing his first guitar in 1935 at the age of twelve, he became proficient at country music. Despite his musical talents, he accepted a scholarship from the University of Idaho at Moscow to play baseball. After a stint in the military from 1942 to 1945, he pursued a career as a construction engineer while playing music part time. He first played with a band of his own, the Rainbow Boys, and later as a pioneering cast member of Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride, a live country music stage show broadcast on station KWKH, where he rubbed elbows with the likes of Hank Williams Sr., Elvis Presley, George Jones, and Johnny Cash. Following the death of fellow Hayride member Johnny Horton—who died in a car crash returning from a show in Austin, Texas, to meet for the beginning of duck-hunting season—King retired from construction work to focus exclusively on his musical career.

A Decade of Hits and Film Appearances

Recording for Columbia Records from 1961 to 1973, King had twenty-nine releases that appeared on Billboard’s top sales charts, nineteen of them in the Top 40, with “Wolverton Mountain,” co-written with Merle Kilgore, about an Arkansas mountain man protecting his young daughter’s virtue, reaching number one for nine weeks and meriting a spot on the country sales chart for another seventeen weeks. Other hits included “Big River, Big Man,” “The Comancheros,” inspired by a John Wayne movie of the same name, and “The Burning of Atlanta,” a Civil War–themed composition. King also appeared in two 1971 feature films, Swamp Girl and Year of the Wahoo, as well as the 1982 television miniseries The Blue and the Gray. As recently as 2003 he released a CD, Cowboy in the White House, which included famed Louisiana guitarist James Burton in a backing role. In 1981 the governor of Arkansas declared August 7 “Wolverton Mountain Day.” In 2007 King was honored by the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce with a sidewalk display that included a star-shaped plaque, handprints, and cowboy-boot prints, on the city’s Walk of Stars, which also contains tributes to quarterback Terry Bradshaw and contemporary country star Kix Brooks.

Death and Legacy

King’s death on March 7, 2013, approximately one month after celebrating both his ninetieth birthday and sixty-seventh wedding anniversary, was considered “sudden,” since he had a fishing trip planned with his eldest son Duane, who was sixty-five at the time, and because he had asked for an exercise bike as a birthday present. “He could have been as big as anybody,” Duane King commented after his father’s death, noting his close association with several music stars, “but that’s not what he was about.” Maggie Warwick, chairperson of the Louisiana Music Commission, praised King’s guitar-playing skills and songwriting: “He had a gift for melody and lyrics that was very definable. The range and melody and the feeling that goes with his songs, when you hear it, it’s very unique and identifiable with Claude King. He had a personal style that was all his own.”

King is buried at Centuries Memorial Park in Shreveport.