As far as Canada is concerned, the first official female Elvis imitator was Vanda King. She acquired the title ‘Female Elvis’ from CHUM radio in 1958. The station generously promoted her by throwing lavish parties at the Royal York Hotel and often playing her records. The first one she made that same year was called Randy (backed with Ooh, Watcha Do!, a vocally frantic side), which made impressionable results by climbing to No. 11 on the CHUM chart.
Randy was co-written by Peter Mann, who wrote another endearing song during the 50s, Beverly (1958), recorded by The Jades. Later in the 60s, he joined The Sugar Shoppe singing group and eventually worked as arranger/producer for a capella vocalists The Nylons.
Vanda King was just 14 years old (born in 1943) when she began attracting attention by singing and gyrating to Elvis-type music around Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute in Scarborough where she was a student. Before long, a record contract was offered.
Personal appearances picked up an even busier schedule, including the 10th Annual Variety Club show (June 10, 1958) at the long gone Maple Leaf Stadium, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team. King shared the bill with Moe Koffman, Gloria Lambert and Jack Duffy.
But rock ‘n’ roll was a fleeting fancy for Vanda King. Two years after her whirlwind ride as Canada’s female Elvis, she told the Toronto Star (Dec. 26, 1959), “I’m interested in singing – not the screaming and yelling that is rock ‘n’ roll.”
And so, throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s, Vanda King worked as a pop music lounge and TV performer before quitting the scene for good.
Today, as President and CEO of Vanda King Entertainment Inc., she runs the successful Piano Showcase business unit.
But, what do people remember the most about Vanda King? Her stint as a rock and rolling female Elvis from days gone by, of course.
Andrew Merey is a Whitby resident who’s interested in music and movie history. He has contributed articles to This Week since 2003.