Kay Kyser: “C’mon Chillun! L’es Dance!”

Kay Kyser and his band. Image from NC Museum of History.

Kay Kyser and his band. Image from N.C. Museum of History.

On July 23, 1985, James “Kay” Kyser, popular radio personality and bandleader, died in Chapel Hill. Born in Rocky Mount in 1905, Kyser attended the University of North Carolina where he was an exuberant head cheerleader and the class president. Also known as the “Ol’ Professor of Swing,” Kyser became one of the most wild and grandiose bandleaders of the swing era.

In the 1930s, Kyser toured with his band, Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, through much of the Midwest. By the next decade, they garnered national attention and had 11 number-one hits. Although he never learned to play an instrument, Kyser was a top-notch entertainer and went on to star in over a dozen movies, co-starring with actors such as Lucille Ball and John Barrymore.

In 1941, Kyser was the first person to perform live at camp shows for U.S. military personnel, predating other famous performers such as Bob Hope. He retired suddenly in 1950, withdrawing to Chapel Hill where he remained until his death. In 1999, he was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.

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6 responses to “Kay Kyser: “C’mon Chillun! L’es Dance!””

  1. Steven Beasley says :

    Kyser’s distinction was not that he was the first performer to entertain military personnel, but that his radio show, KAY KYSER’S COLLEGE OF MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE, was the first to be broadcast from a military facility. Check out my book, KAY KYSER-THE OL’ PROFESSOR OF SWING! AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN SUPERSTAR. It’s the first full length biography on Kyser. Google it! Catch us on FB under the book title..

  2. Steven Beasley says :

    The pic at the top of the page is NOT Kay Kyser and/or his band. Google one!

    • NC Culture says :

      Hi Mr. Beasley,

      Thanks for commenting. We’re actually pretty sure that this image is of Kay Kyser and his band. It’s a 1964 copy of an original of an unknown date, and is part of the collection of the N.C. Museum of History.

      If you Google Mr. Kyser’s name and see pictures of him, most of them match pretty closely with the man who is sitting in the car, but not driving.

      For more information on this image, head to http://collections.ncdcr.gov and search on “H.1964.121.12″ (include the quotation marks in your search).

      Thanks again for writing and for following us!

      • Steven Beasley says :

        Kay Kyser was a blonde. This guy looks nothing like him except for wearing glasses. I also knew several KK bandmembers and these arent THEM. As Kyser’s official biographer, Ive researched him for 20 years and written the first bio on him. .Best, Steven Beasley.

  3. Dave Smith says :

    Hello – Must respectfully suggest the photo above described as Kay Kyser has been mislabeled. Having a good friend who was an important member of the 1940’s Kyser band, I have seen many pictures of Kay Kyser and his band members. I am afraid none of those in this picture resemble Kay Kyser by any stretch. Most of the Kyser band members were closer in age to their leader. The fellow you are suggesting as Kyser is considerably older than the band members. Actually, this chap looks much older than Kyser would have been at the time this picture would have been taken.

    • Steven Beasley says :

      Dave- I also left a comment saying the man in the pic is not Kyser, but they somehow seem to think it is. Frankly, I cant understand how anyone w/ any cognitive skills could even think it’s Kyser, if they bothered to compare. Crazy.

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