The King and I: Remembering King Bhumibol

11/21/2016 06:05 pm ET Updated Nov 22, 2017

In the early 1950s our record of the month club--started by my late husband, Sam Josefowitz--was expanding into other countries. Concert Hall Society, Handel Society, Opera Society, and Jazztone Society were the first clubs to provide members with a record every month. They were made of red vinyl--78s with artistically designed covers. One day unexpectedly, we received an invitation from King Bhumibol to visit him in his palace. The king was an aficionado and wanted to meet us and talk music, particularly about jazz. He was one of the descendants to the King of Siam made famous by the movie The King and I.
And so we took off for Thailand. We were met at the Bangkok Airport by a royal limousine. When we asked to be taken to our hotel, we were told the king was expecting us immediately. So we went in our rumpled clothes from a long night on the plane and were ushered into an ornate room. The king was sitting on a settee, not a throne; we were seated opposite him in white and gold Louis XV chairs. Servants were scurrying about on their knees as a sign of homage. We were offered orange juice and spent a lively few hours discussing music--the various bands that David Josefowitz, Sam's brother, had recorded and the means of advertising, packaging and mailing the records (which was Sam's department). The king was interested in every facet of our club. We had brought him one of our records, for which he thanked us profusely. When it was time to go, we had to walk backwards because no one could turn their backs on the king.
King Bhumibol was a short, rather unassuming man; were he not king, I would not have guessed at his royal heritage. On the other hand, what was I expecting? A red velvet cloak, a scepter, and a crown? He was very personable and quickly put us at ease. We were the same age, in our late twenties; it felt like we could easily have been friends. He was knowledgeable about music and played the saxophone and the clarinet himself. He asked many questions as to our choice of artists, and even offered some suggestions of his own.
We spoke French; he had gone to school in Lausanne, Switzerland, and was a few years behind my husband at L'Ecole Nouvelle. Classmates of Sam's in that same school were the Shah of Iran and his brother. Lausanne was rife with current and deposed nobility--kings and queens from around the world, sheiks from Arab countries.
Looking back on that visit, what seemed unremarkable then, amazes me today, chatting happily with King Bhumibol just as if he had been any other music-loving friend. We were all so young then. When I read that the King died at 88 (a year younger than I), memories of that day came flooding back as a shining moment of innocence and sheer pleasure. The king remained a member of our record-club until the company was sold many years later.