Nat “King” Cole gave the world the gift of his incandescent voice – a gift that lives on for perpetuity. Despite his passing, Nat’s liquid, soothing voice continues to stroke our senses with every song, and when I met Shawn King, the melodious notes of Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’ song accompanied her every move. Shawn glides like a tall, graceful giraffe. Her eyes are liquidly soft, and her generous, warm-hearted smile lights up the room. Her imprint is immediate, indelible and unforgettable.
Music courses through every vein in Shawn’s lithe body. It’s a visceral part of her being, and she breaks out into song as naturally as a bird wakes up tweeting. As I studied Shawn each day, Nat King Cole’s music was thematic. On this particular day, when I visited her in her Beverly Hills home in December 2020, the vast layers of a full life were evident as Shawn’s heart swelled with the birth of her baby granddaughter. Her eldest son, Danny and his wife, had just welcomed their third child into the world, and while Shawn rejoiced, she was reminded of the exceptionally loving home in which she was raised, with two parents who were devoted to each of their five children.
The pictures in Shawn’s home are of family including her three sons, Danny, Cannon and Chance, whom she adores whole-heartedly. Beyond that, the richness of her musical life is evident everywhere. And that’s where our conversation flow sparkles with dynamic stories of the myriad of musical giants with whom she’s worked. Shawn’s musical odyssey began at age three when she sang on a Nat King Cole Christmas Album. She grew up at the foot of musical icons Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Glen Campbell. Later on, as her musical career crescendoed, she worked with Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendez, Herb Alpert, Bobby Sherman and Neil Diamond.
One of Shawn’s memorable highlights was singing the title song on the Christmas album, ‘Gotta Love the Holidays’ – benefitting the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. The contributing artists accompanying her on the CD included Elton John, Celine Deon, Kenny G. and Michael Bublé. David Foster, of course, was at the helm with his directional musical mastery. It’s one of so many collaborations Shawn has had with musical royalty. And then there were all the other magical nights in which she shone. At a Barbara Davis charitable event, the great Natalie Cole sang alongside Shawn, and went on to offer her personal support and musical encouragement. It was a poignant, full-circle moment as Shawn recalled her musical baptism – singing on Natalie Cole’s beloved dad’s Christmas album.
Shawn also conceived and co-founded Ora TV, a television production studio and on-demand television network launched in 2012.
There have also been unexpectedly dramatic incidents quite unlike flawless Hollywood productions. Shawn was a backup singer for the Osmonds while they were on a world tour. When they were performing in the Genting Highlands, Malaysia, civil unrest erupted with a volley of gunfire and bullets being shot off in all directions. In the early hours of the morning, their tour manager ordered the evacuation of everyone – silently and fast – so they scrambled onto old buses that creaked, swayed and coasted down the steep mountain where the guerillas were fighting. In order to avoid detection, the anxious drivers turned off all the engines and the buses’ headlights! Operation Bye Bye was a uniquely dangerous experience that ended without casualties, thankfully.
Music was truly part of the fabric of my childhood. How could it NOT be? My dad was VP of A&R at Capitol Records, and my mom was a first-call session singer and contractor, recording with industry giants like Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley
For Shawn, this was also an early lesson into how the complexities and volatilities of life don’t always have perfectly predictable endings. Married to legendary talk show host Larry King for 23 years, they have two beautiful sons, Cannon and Chance, and the four of them have shared enormously rich memories in which humor has always abounded.
At the time of going to press, Larry was critically ill, and Shawn’s heart was heavy as she watched her sons’ fears aggregate. Children deeply fear the loss of a parent, and Cannon and Chance were particularly vulnerable because of their close relationship with their father. Larry King passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on January 23, 2021. While the world mourned the loss of a great broadcasting legend, the King family united to comfort and support each other through their personal pain.
As Shawn allowed me to see into her heart, I thought about how musicians use their artistry to capture profound human emotions. It was no coincidence that as I was thinking about the words in the song, ‘Smile’, originally performed by the great Nat King Cole, an exquisite David Foster production of it started playing with Shawn’s velvety voice stroking it with her tender nuances:
When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by If you smile through your fear and sorrow Smile and maybe tomorrow You’ll see the sun come shining through For you
It was so aptly perfect to hear Shawn’s talents sensitively capture some of the complex emotions that she is experiencing in this chapter of her life. Great joy is often straddled by sorrow and pain, and it’s especially difficult to navigate when there is so much media spotlight.
Yet as Shawn climbed this mountain to tell her story, gratitude was the consistently dominant emotion she sought at every angle. She is massively grateful for a family that has given her a life that continues to be filled with abundant love. Shawn’s smile, tears and laughter are genuine, and her presence is indelibly unforgettable.
Our sincere gratitude goes out to Denise and Randy Capri, for allowing us the privilege of using their amazing Lake Sherwood home for this cover shoot. For more information on this ‘for sale’ property, please visit 196LowerLake.com
Q: You had a close-to-ideal childhood upbringing in Los Angeles with great role-model parents who were loving and caring. Your dad, Karl Engemann, was a record industry executive, and your mom was a first-call session singer and contractor. Describe your childhood.
Shawn: I had an exceptionally happy childhood. There were five kids in our family, plus 4 sets of extended families living in close proximity with plenty of cousins to get together with. We’d have family picnics and waterskiing trips, trips to the Hotel Del Coronado to play tennis and enjoy the beach every summer. And MUSIC! Music was truly part of the fabric of my childhood. How could it NOT be? My dad was VP of A&R at Capitol Records, and my mom was a first-call session singer and contractor, recording with industry giants like Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley. She even sang the original “Batman” theme song! In addition to family, mom and dad’s professional friends became adopted family and were welcomed fixtures in our childhood. Very famous artists, songwriters, producers came to visit. I have some extraordinary memories of Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys) playing catch in our front yard, or swimming in the backyard. He went waterskiing with us too. I’d walk through the living room and Billy Preston would be in knee-high platform tapestry bubble boots attacking the piano keys like he was at war with them. Anne Murray was in town from Canada. “Snowbird” was climbing the charts. My dad invited her to our home and before she left she took me for a bike ride around the neighborhood. One morning dad was driving my brother, Paul and me to school and the radio was on (always). The DJ announced, “and here he is at the top of the Billboard charts in the #1 position, GLEN CAMPBELL singing Wichita Lineman.” My dad lit up, played drums on the steering wheel, and hollered, “Go Glen, go!” I was 13 years old at the time and little did I realize that years later I would record a duet with Glen singing a song that another family friend, Paul McCartney, kindly suggested for me.
Dad signed wonderful acts to Capitol Records, but I was too young to know all of them at the time. When I was 5, our family went to the Hollywood Bowl to see The Beatles. All I remember was that there were oceans of girls screaming and crying. I couldn’t hear the group at all. I was petrified because there were teenagers (yikes!) who broke through the police barricade and walked into the mote that had been built to keep The Beatles safe. The police began arresting the girls. I thought we’d be arrested next! By the way, my dad accepted The Beatles’ first Grammy here in the US.
While my family stood at ground zero of the rock ’n roll revolution, it may have seemed oddly juxtaposed to those on the outside looking in, that we were devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (otherwise known as the Mormons). Every Sunday, we dressed in our Sunday best. My mom would coif a bun on top of my head the size of a French croissant, and off we’d go!
One story my Dad tells on occasion is about me. We had just finished our main meeting at church and we were heading to our Sunday school classes. He tells me that he was bounding up the stairs on his way to check on something when he heard my voice calling after him, saying, “Daddy, daddy! Wait, I’m following you!” He told me he stopped dead in his tracks and his heart melted as he saw the unreserved, childlike trust I had in him. He told me in that moment he resolved he would continue to live his life in a manner that would be a good example for me. Even today, at age 90, he continues to keep that resolve, and it still tears me up every time he tells the story. Dad is my hero and both my parents have lived exemplary lives. I’m so blessed that I’m theirs and they’re mine.
I worked with the likes of Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendez, Herb Alpert, Bobby Sherman, Neil Diamond, to name a few. My brother, Paul, and I even recorded the Oscar Meyer Weiner jingle! I was fast tracked into the industry and I recall sitting at the foot of Burt Bacharach playing the piano, and learning to sing the tunes by ear
Q: Your singing career began at age three when you sang on a Nat King Cole Christmas album. At age 13, you played a lead role in the musical “Saturday’s Warrior”. You did commercials where harmonizing came naturally to you. Music was central to your family’s life.
Shawn: Without having an understanding of the enormity of these careers and reputations, I worked with the likes of Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendez, Herb Alpert, Bobby Sherman, Neil Diamond, to name a few. My brother, Paul, and I even recorded the Oscar Meyer Weiner jingle! I was fast tracked into the industry and I recall sitting at the foot of Burt Bacharach playing the piano, and learning to sing the tunes by ear. I also had to keep an eye on the music to know whether to sing up or down. At a very early age I found myself in the elite circle of first-call children session singers in Hollywood. I remember the old candy bar and soda machines, and when we did a good job, we were rewarded with a candy bar – my favorite being “Payday”. What they didn’t know is that I would have taken just the Payday as payment!
At age 13, I was cast in a lead role in the musical, Saturday’s Warrior. The cast became its own family. We toured the western United States and were like a band of traveling gyspises, except our wagons were airplanes, our tents – hotels. We had all of the fun and none of the mud! We sang, we danced, we laughed, we cried, and we loved. We never stopped. That was a magical time for me and my family as we toured together. For a Mormon girl finding her way in Hollywood in the 1970s, the message of Saturday’s Warrior really resonated with me at a critical period of my life. It helped me solidify my life’s path.
Q: After your dad left Capitol records, he managed the Osmond family, and you were a backup singer. Your family toured the world with the Osmonds, and experienced more adrenalin-spiking action than you envisaged. Describe what happened while you were in the Genting Highlands, Malaysia.
Shawn: At the height of their worldwide popularity, the Osmonds “stole” my dad away from Capitol Records to manage their careers. I was hired on to travel the world as one of their back-up singers, and just in case you assume this was a glamorous life, let me share just one experience. We were playing at a casino in the Genting Highlands. We took helicopters to get there. We worked the week, and were packed to leave the next morning. At around 3AM, our tour manager came pounding on our doors – shouting at us that we had to leave immediately. The state department advised us that there was guerilla warfare within 15 minutes of our location, and that they were on the move in one direction. If we took helicopters, we risked getting shot down. So, we piled into a caravan of rickety old buses. We were told to not speak or make any noise, and we headed down a very narrow winding dirt road. To avoid being noticed, the drivers turned off our headlights and our engines. We coasted down a harrowing mountain path with our hearts in our throats. Not a peep was made. Thankfully, we lived to tell the tale.
Q: You were just 20 years old when you married Dan Southwick. You share a son, Danny, who is now a devoted husband and father to 3 children. Describe the depths of your relationship with your eldest son – from his childhood through to his adult years.
Shawn: Because I was so young when I had Danny, we kind of grew up and learned many of life’s lessons together. The most important lesson was to set a goal and work hard towards that goal. We both learned that you can have all the potential in the world, but if you don’t take action and work on your goals, all you have is potential and nothing more.
I was lucky to have a lot of auditions pretty much every day. I’d get my wardrobe together and do a quick change in the car in-between auditions. There were times when I couldn’t afford a babysitter, so I would bring my 2-year-old Danny Boy to auditions. I would be reading for the part of an ingénue with a darling little curly-haired bouncing boy on my lap. It wasn’t exactly the visual the casting directors were looking for, but it was my only option. I was very blessed to quickly break into acting. And then hosting. I co-hosted The Guinness Book Of World Records with David Frost, and I hosted Hollywood Insider for 7 years. During that time, I experienced huge wins and equally huge disappointments. Quitting wasn’t an option. I had to build a shell around myself to prevent discouragement. Danny was right there with me.
Danny also aimed high. He wanted to be a pro football quarterback. After high school, he had numerous offers from Division 1 schools. We learned lessons there. I knew nothing about the ins and outs of football. I just loved the game and I loved watching Danny play – both in victory and defeat. Hmmm…I see a pattern. Between high school and college, Danny went on a 2-year mission for our church. When he returned, the Oakland Raiders offered him a position on the roster. What a joy it was to watch him practice from the sidelines! But Football is fickle. Danny didn’t want to just practice, he wanted to play. After his time with the Raiders, he tried out for the Arena Football League. He’s still playing at age 39, and at the same time, he’s getting his PhD in Psychology at U Penn. He just had his first paper published, and he and his wife Tilly have 3 gorgeous children. Their baby, Lilly Grace Southwick was born just a few days before this shoot.
During our early courtship, Larry pulled out all the stops. On one of our earliest dates, Larry invited me to New York to see the play, Chicago. We went to dinner afterwards and in walked Al Pacino
Q: In 1996, you were crossing a street in Beverly Hills when Larry King saw you. At the time, you had a flourishing career with your innovative hair extensions business, and you weren’t looking for anyone. A short courtship followed, and then your massively publicized wedding. Describe the impact a show business legend like Larry had on your life.
Shawn: Meeting Larry wasn’t as intimidating for me as one might imagine because I had met and interviewed so many celebrities during my time at Hollywood Insider, and I’d literally grown up with a revolving door of A-list entertainers in our home.
I first met Larry when I was walking out of Tiffany’s after buying stocking stuffers for my family for Christmas. It was December 21st. Larry was running in to buy his daughter, Chaia, a birthday present. We bumped into each other. I nodded. He grunted. We both went our separate ways. Within a minute, Larry was walking out the back door of Tiffany’s and “accidentally” bumped into me again, and quipped, “You better get out of here right away or it’s gonna be all over the tabloids.”
During our early courtship, Larry pulled out all the stops. On one of our earliest dates, Larry invited me to New York to see the play, Chicago. We went to dinner afterwards and in walked Al Pacino. He walked directly up to our table with his arms wide open and exclaimed, “Laaaaary, what are you doing here? Who’s this? So good to see you.” He sat down at our table and visited with us for the rest of our intimate dinner – and dessert! What I didn’t know was that Larry had called Al and asked that he come and “bump into us” at dinner. It was a great evening, clever of Larry, albeit a bit obvious.
Larry was very charming and funny. I didn’t expect the funny part. There were times in our marriage when we’d be doubled over with laughter and we couldn’t stop. That happened once when we were doing our podcast. Somewhere out there is a commercial for Casper Mattresses where Larry and I lost it, and we were giggling uncontrollably.
Larry was a world-class romantic. Conquering is what drove him, and being the good Mormon girl that I am, I was tough to catch. When Larry wanted something or someone, he wouldn’t quit until he caught the prize. He was adorable and he noticed the little things. For instance, when we first met, Larry discovered that I liked maraschino cherries, so he had a delivery truck unload 4 commercial sized jars of them at my doorstep. They were brought in on dollies. I was going to make a glass table using the cherry jars as the feet. But Larry moved so fast and with such determination that I didn’t have much time on my own. One night at around 2 or 3AM, I received a call from his Executive Producer at CNN, Wendy Walker. She apologized profusely for calling me at that hour. She told me that Larry wouldn’t stop hounding her about helping him out. She told me that what she was about to do was way outside her job description, but that Larry was insistent. He asked Wendy to call and tell me he’d only been married 2 or 3, MAYBE 4 times. I asked Wendy if Larry knew about this crazy thing called the internet. MAYBE 4 times? Wendy and I both roared with laughter and I thanked her for her call. Numbers Schmumbers!
The biggest change in my life when I met Larry was that my much-valued private life became very public overnight. Public opinion isn’t always kind, and the tabloids make a living on sensationalizing things. During one of those dark periods, a good friend of mine, Wynonna, reached out with some timely advice. She stepped up during a period in my life that really mattered, and when no publicist would “touch me” because of an exploitative tabloid piece. It seemed that the world had turned on me. But not Wynonna. She said, “Girl, don’t turn on the television, stay off social media, and don’t read the tabloids.” Words of wisdom from one who knows!
Q: Your sons Cannon and Chance were born. You gave up your career to devote yourself entirely to Larry and your boys. Describe raising the boys and some favorite memories and moments in your family life.
Shawn: If you look at our family photos, you’ll likely see that the majority of our time was spent at sporting events. We are either at the boys’ football games, basketball, baseball games, Dodgers games, World Series or some other sports-related outing. We had great birthday parties for the kids. Way over the top! Petting zoos; a Tour around the neighborhood in a firetruck down Rodeo Drive. Wacky scientist. Bounce houses with slides. Characters like Mickey and Minny Mouse, Barney, Power Rangers, Batman & Robin, etc. When each boy turned 8 – and Larry turned 80 – we rented out Dodger Stadium. Subtlety wasn’t our specialty when it came to birthdays. Larry and I were different in so many ways, but one of the things we had in common was that we loved our kids with all our hearts.
Q: Sunday night dinners became sacrosanct in the King home. Describe the dinner table and how important Sunday nights have been to your family.
Shawn: To me, Sunday is the most important day of the week. It’s a day to be together as a family, to worship, reach out to others, disconnect from the world, and connect with each other. Our lives were so busy but Sunday was different from any other day in our home. It gave us the opportunity to talk about what was going on in everyone’s lives. When the boys would ask if they could invite a friend or a few friends over, the answer was always ‘yes’. I love to cook, and I love to see my family around the dinner table. It was where we told stories, and even though the same stories may have been told many times, they still made us all laugh. Each person has their favorite meal, and Larry had his favorite jokes. Chance loves broccoli; both boys love pot roast and gravy; I love chicken with pesto and fresh rosemary out of my garden; and Larry liked anything as long as it was well done. Burnt, really. Sounds so corny and traditional, but that’s who we were.
My fondest memories are the private, unscripted, funny, impromptu moments, like our annual Christmas/Holiday party. We’d gather our closest family and friends together to share dinner, music, laughter, hijinks and love
Q: Musically, you’ve worked with world-respected leaders in the industry. You recorded with Giorgio Moroder, and attended both the Golden Globes and Oscar Awards ceremonies where Giorgio won for the ‘Top Gun’ song, ‘You Take My Breath Away’. You’ve worked with David Foster on special projects and the 2002 Winter Olympics commemorative cd, ‘Light up the Land’. What are the best memories you have of all those incredible experiences?
Shawn: I first met Giorgio (Moroder) when I was 17. We recorded an album together, and the album went nowhere, but years later, after my marriage to Dan (Southwick) ended, Giorgio and I reconnected and began dating. He had just come off of writing the music to Flashdance, and winning an Oscar for “What A Feeling”. He had scored and written the music to Top Gun. We went to the Golden Globes and the Oscars together. He was nominated that year for Best Song in A Motion Picture, “Take My Breath Away.” The group, Berlin, sang it. He won both awards. Talk about a rush! I was so excited and happy for him. We’re still close. His wife, Francisca, is a good friend too. I can’t say one bad thing about Giorgio. He’s a sweetheart and we’re still in touch.
I met David Foster while I was dating Lee Greenwood. He took me to David’s studio at his home in Malibu. It wasn’t until after I married Larry that I worked with David. My goodness! David is a master vocal producer. He truly is The Hit Man.
And then playing the main showroom at the Stardust hotel, opening for Don Rickles, in a room where I’d gone to see many other acts over the years, is a highlight of my musical life! I learned so much, and worked as hard as I did while putting the show together.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include other cherished friends and producers I’ve worked with, such as: Narada Michael Walden; Humberto Gatica; Carl Jackson; Keith Follesé; Steve Tyrell; and Bruce Roberts.
Q: You worked with Willie Nelson
Shawn: The Willie project was an incredible experience. He’s a legend, and very kind and down to earth. When I first met him, it felt surreal. He walked into the studio and was polite in a southern gentleman kind of way. I pinched myself. Was this really happening? Even though I grew up around music legends, there are some entertainers that a girl still gets giddy over. Willie is that for me! I had already laid down my vocal, so Willie had a guide to sing to. We shot the video in New York. His entire portion was shot on his tour bus. The next night, Willie was playing at a jazz club at the Lincoln Center, and he invited me to the show, and then to hang out and visit on his tour bus. (I never smelled a hint of weed, but I did see a loaf of hemp bread on his counter!) We put the record out but the timing was competing with Willie’s other projects, so we pulled promotion back and held onto it for a later release. You can find the video on shawnking.com.
Q: Of all your adventures with Larry, Cannon and Chance, which ones hold the fondest memories for you?
Shawn: We’ve been very fortunate to experience a whole lot of things in life that are truly amazing. I realize just how blessed we are and have been. But if I had to choose my fondest memories, I would say they would be the private, unscripted, funny, impromptu moments, like our annual Christmas/Holiday party. We’d gather our closest family and friends together to share dinner, music, laughter, hijinks and love as we set the tone for the Christmas season. It is our most cherished tradition.
Q: You understand clearly the value of family
Shawn: What I want most for my children and family is to give them the laughter, support, care and magical memories and love that my parents gave to me and my siblings in my idyllic childhood. Our life has not always been easy and there have certainly been challenges along the way. But no matter what shape or form our family may take, we will never be lacking in love, and in the end, isn’t that what’s most important, anyway?
Q: Favorite food dish?
Shawn: Cheese Enchiladas with Guac and Sour Cream
Q: The ultimate indulgence for you is…….
Shawn: Flying Private
Q: Favorite movie of all time?
Shawn: Lady Sings the Blues. It was the first movie that grabbed hold of my emotions
Q: The most beautiful place in the world?
Shawn: Portofino, Italy
Q: If you could have dinner with anybody in the world, who would you most like to meet and enjoy a conversation?
Shawn: My maternal grandmother. I’ve heard many wonderful stories about her
Q: What do you want your parents to know?
Shawn: Love, laughter and faith were abundant in our home and it’s what carries and comforts me