Kim was born during World War II in Rarotonga, the eldest daughter of a Mormon missionary and baker, Fritz Bunge-Krueger. Samoa-born, Fritz married a Scottish/Māori, Maudina Wiki, whom he met while on a trip to New Zealand to purchase baking supplies. The family moved around the Pacific Islands on missionary work, staying first in Rarotonga, then Niue for a year, and on to Samoa, where Maudina died at the young age of 30. Fritz returned to New Zealand with 10-year-old Kim and his five younger children.
Fritz opened a bakery in Auckland, remarried and had two more children. In the Samoan community in Auckland, he became a legend due to his kindness and famous specialities, coconut buns and pineapple pies.
Kim attended Selwyn College for a year before becoming a boarder at the new CCNZ (Church College New Zealand) built in Temple View, Hamilton by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She sang briefly in the school choir and proudly modelled the new uniforms after the college was completed and opened in April 1958.
“I did a commercial course at high school and of course it was office work when I found a job back in Auckland. That year, 1960, I was 17 years old. I worked two jobs, at Auckland Glass Company’s office during the day, then three nights a week at the Odeon theatre. I spent the other three nights studying.
“1961 was the year things changed, I was 18 years old and took more interest in other music, besides Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. It was the jazz scene I listened to: Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dinah Washington, to name a few. A friend of mine at church heard my two sisters and myself sing our one song at a church evening. He asked if I could join his group of four and sing at a talent show in Panmure. I did … we won a £50 prize! The boys sang ‘Satin Doll’ and the song they gave me was ‘Why Do You Whisper Green Grass’. Our fearless leader organised us to sing our only two songs for free the following weekend, in town, off Queen Street upstairs at the Montmartre nightclub.
“Harry M Miller heard about us and asked us over to audition. The young boys, university students, turned down the offer. However I accepted when Harry turned to me, and the surprise of my life was to be on the same show with the Everly brothers! The Howard Morrison Quartet was also on this show. Months later the Showtime Spectacular was the first of three [national tours] to follow each year.”
Not only was Harry Miller an impresario touring overseas shows, he also had a record label to further promote the artists. Kim featured on an LP of the Showtime Spectacular show and the tune was also her first single: ‘I Fall to Pieces’, the ballad made famous by Patsy Cline. Two other singles followed. The Bob Paris Quartet accompanied her on ‘Norman’, the 1961 Sue Thompson hit, b/w ‘She's Got You’. On ‘Walkin’ after Midnight’ – another Patsy Cline standard – the b-side was ‘Foolin’ Round’, and the backing was the Quin Tikis.
On tour, “all the boys, bands included, treated me like their little sister.”
“As you can see I had very little musical experience. I was shy, quiet, and it was Harry himself who selected what songs I sang, recorded and when. He treated me with kindness and respect. In fact all the boys, bands included, treated me like their little sister. (It’s what my father expected from them.) It’s amazing how being in the right place at the right time can go a long way.”
Being in the right place at the right time included the show where she met Ray Columbus and The Invaders with their guitarist Wally Scott. When The Invaders called it a day in 1965 the music scene had changed and nightclub entertainers weren’t singing the same sorts of songs as newcomers Dinah Lee or The Chicks, so Kim was more than happy to seek fame and fortune with her boyfriend in Australia. In Sydney, she appeared on John Laws’ television show singing ‘Seven League Boots’.
Wally Scott ran into Peter Nelson, from Christchurch band The Castaways, who was heading to Hong Kong to look for nightclub work. He told Wally that Western musicians could do well in the Far East and so Wally and Kim set off to Thailand on holiday but with an eye on the nightclubs. They both found work in Bangkok, Wally playing in a band called Inner Souls, and Kim singing with The Electric Flower at a club called the Nawai.
One day Peter Nelson called from Bangkok, and asked Wally to bring his girlfriend to Hong Kong, where Peter was forming a band to be called Renaissance. He asked if Wally could recommend a bass player and Wally suggested Billy Kristian, also from The Invaders. Wally said yes, and Kim discovered she was pregnant, so the two married and flew to Hong Kong. Kristian arrived with his seven-year-old daughter and all four shared a small hotel room.
After three months the band went to Bangkok, where Billy’s wife Lorraine and two boys joined them and took their own apartment with Billy and daughter. Next came the Hilton in Singapore and a bit more luxury. Free accommodation but your own food bills. Kim gave up singing when her son was born, so to while away the days she and Lorraine joined a karate club and took part in competitions.
In January 1971 Renaissance moved to the famous Mugen nightclub in Japan. They were there for five months then Peter announced a six-month contract in Hawaii. Wally and Kim went but visa problems for Peter Nelson meant the contract fell through and Renaissance fell apart.
Kim and Wally had American visas though, and moved to Texas with their three children. There they found entrepreneurial work flipping houses but Wally developed melanoma and the family moved back to New Zealand. In February 1980, Wally died in Christchurch and Kim moved back to the North Island. She remarried, to Stan Semenoff, the then-mayor of Whangārei, where the couple still live.