Amanda King Marks Homecoming With District Theatre Show

September 25, 2023

Amanda King – Courtesy of Amanda King. Used with permission.

Indianapolis native Amanda King, now a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada, has not performed in her hometown since 2009, but will soon remedy that absence when she performs in “ELLA The Early Years” at The District Theatre, downtown on Mass Ave., Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.

Amanda King – Courtesy of Amanda King. Used with permission.

Billed as “a classic chanteuse” King who performs standards and jazz, is a preservationist of the music and performers of the early 20th century. Exalted by The New York Times critic Stephen Holden as one of the nightclub world’s “exceptional rising talents” and a repeat performer at the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention, King, a long-time San Francisco resident, moved to Las Vegas in 2017 and is one of its top jazz performers. Combining the best of the jazz and cabaret worlds by focusing on the words, the music, and the swing, King, according to her bio, “masterfully interprets the music she performs and relishes diving into history to share the stories, songs and people that make up the treasure trove of pre-1950s American Popular Music.”

In “ELLA the Early Years” King covers the years before Ella Fitzgerald became the First Lady of Song, when she was just a young girl who overcame formidable obstacles with a dream and determination. King’s show focuses on the formative time Ella spent with the pioneering drummer, Chick Webb, and his orchestra. Webb’s orchestra also served as the musical foundation for many legendary sidemen, many of whom Ella would go on to work with for decades. This early partnership of Ella and Chick catapulted both their careers to new heights.

My own history with King runs deep. Her mother, Claudia Polley, a former Juilliard trained singer who went on to become a local and national radio broadcaster, sports announcer, jazz recording producer and museum consultant, among other things, is as longtime friend as was her mother, the late Jean Spears, a noted Indianapolis historic preservationist. Consequently, I have known King since she was a toddler.

Amanda King – Courtesy of Amanda King. Used with permission.

Besides her District appearance, King has also been in Indy to perform in a showcase at the Midwest Arts Expo held recently at the downtown Hyatt Hotel ballroom. On Saturday, Sept. 30 she will appear in the Grand Finale Event presented by the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation at TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park.

Last week I sat down with King at her mother’s near westside Ransom’s Place home to chat about her Indy homecoming. The first question I asked her was how it was she is living in Las Vegas after her years in San Francisco where she had carved out such a respectable career. She replied that that her ex-husband moved there and since the two co-parented their son Duncan, now 17, she wanted to be near him. “I was involved in being a mom and giving him stability. His dad has two kids with his present wife so we have a blended family that I want him to be a part of too.”

Although “Las Vegas and jazz don’t go hand and hand like Rat Pack music does” according to King, she does love her regular gig in a speakeasy in the basement of The Mob Museum where she does a show once or twice a month.  With its emphasis on history surrounding the prohibition era, King says it is a perfect venue for her to sing music from the 20s and 30s that she specializes in. “There are jazz opportunities and I take advantage of them when they come around.” emphasized King but said “I love my gig at The Mob Museum.”

King who performs in jazz clubs has also performed in cabaret venues. When asked what the difference between a jazz singer and a cabaret artist she said “It’s a very fine line. Jazz people will tell you it is more about the music than the words of the song. I say that there is room for both. I am probably in the middle but if someone were to ask me, I would say jazz before cabaret.” adding that “I am more jazz than cabaret because I don’t sing Broadway tunes. If I do Broadway, it was in the 1920s and 1930s, a lot of our standards came from Broadway shows.”

When asked who her major influences are King stated “My original influence was Betty Grable. That’s how I originally got into classics watching TMC, then got into jazz through that. I am an 80s kid. I was into groups such as Duran Duran and wasn’t paying any attention to jazz. Then I discovered Anita O’Day. I fell in love with her and then discovered Ella, but I always felt she was untouchable because of her mastery of scat. Scat is not something that has issues forth from me naturally. In the last two years it has started to emerge, but I am not ready to unleash it publicly yet.  My shower hears a lot. My shower is my closet confidante in scat.” laughed King, who reiterated “I am never going to be this Ella who has always mimicked people spot on. She gained her ear on the band stand on the Chick Webb orchestra. She would hear a song on the radio and link it back to a song from the 1920s because she could hear a song in her head. One day I will scat, but I am in the school that believes you don’t have to scat to be a jazz singer. That’s why I chose early Ella because she wasn’t scatting then.”

Amanda King – Courtesy of Amanda King. Used with permission.

When I mentioned to King that her one sounded like Fitzgerald’s she said “I have always had that tone. People have always compared the clarity of my tone to Ella’ s. However, I have never been an Ella tribute artist and not that at all. I do the Ella show because I discovered her history and met people who were close to her. They told me things about her that led me to believe that she and I are like soul sisters in so many ways. It is important for me for people to understand her legacy and her beginnings. I can also do Amanda. I am always Amanda. I am goofy and irreverent on stage, but I do enjoy presenting history as I am a preservationist.”

In addition to her Ella show, King has other idols who she honors. “I do another show called “Lost Women, Forgotten Songs” It’s about women who are not getting their just due. Mildred Bailey, Anita O’Day, Bea Wain, Ivie Anderson, and Una Mae Carlise. They were women who lived their music and gave their lives to it and now no one knows who they are. That pains me. The songs are ones I have uncovered through hours of research either through watching TMC movies or movie musicals or jazz or pop standard albums through the 1930s to the 50s. Now I just love sharing these treasures.” said King who adds. I also do a show called “The Ladies Who Swing” celebrating singers such as Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Pearl Bailey. Doris Day had fantastic jazz chops.”

What about King’s current favorite vocalists? Who do you admire currently? “Ann Hampton Callaway. I love Samara Joy, Jazmella Horn, Gregory Porter, Nicholas Bearde and San Fransico’s singer Kenny Washington who knows one know about and which pains me.” lamented King.

“My short-term goal is to release my sophomore album next year (“Chanteuse,” her first came out in 2008). In the meantime, an album coming out this week is one in which I am featured singing five songs with Rob Dixon and Steve Allee and three others in a quintet. The recording is called “Deluxe.” King said. As far as her future aspirations, she said,” In the next few years I would like to become more of an international singer as well as tour in the U.S.”

And what can audiences expect when seeing “ELLA The Early Years? “A captivating show of swingin fun music and historical anecdotes about Ella’s early life.” proclaimed King.

For tickets and information about “ELLA The Early Years” visit



photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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