Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

March 21, 2007:

“Rocky” King ’45

“Rocky” King ’45 has been performing at nightclubs for more than 50 years. (Kevin Mingora/Cape Cod Times)

PROFILE — "Rocky" King '45
Still performing after all these years

For more than half a century, Philo Rockwell “Rocky” King Jr. ’45 has been wooing audiences: telling jokes, playing show tunes, and giving them a taste of some old-time boogie-woogie. At 83, King still performs at a Cape Cod nightclub in the summer and takes his show to Florida condominiums and country clubs in the winter.

“I’m not thinking of retiring, because I’m getting better,” King says.

A performer since he memorized some boogie-woogie tunes at age 15, King made Triangle his freshman year and sang in quartets at Princeton. He picked up some piano tips in Germany during the war, expanding his repertoire. When he returned to Princeton, King, an economics major, was voted the biggest party boy of his class.

After brief stints in graduate school and business, King won an amateur talent contest and decided to make a go of entertaining. In the ’50s gigs were plentiful, but one day the crowd started dozing off.

“I was playing the piano in some little town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and no one was listening, and for some reason I told a joke and everyone shut up,” he says. “I went back to my hotel and sat up until six in the morning with a little notebook, writing down every joke I’d ever heard. I’ve been doing that ever since.”

A triple threat of boogie-woogie, show tunes, and (sometimes risqué) jokes, King spent most of his career playing at the Sand Bar, a Cape Cod nightclub, in the summers and a Vermont restaurant, which he owned, during ski season.

He also has been known to liven up Princeton Reunions.

“He’s really an archive of a great period of both music and anecdotes,” says Whitney Seymour Jr. ’45, who can’t remember a major reunion without King at the piano. “He’s an extraordinary human being and performer, but he’s an invaluable piece of walking Americana.”P

By Anne Ruderman ’01

Anne Ruderman ’01 is a graduate student at Yale University.