Kay Kyser:“C’mon Chillun! Le’s Dance!”

On July 23, 1985James “Kay” Kyser, popular radio personality and bandleader, died in Chapel Hill.

Born in Rocky Mount in 1905, Kyser attended UNC where he was an exuberant head cheerleader and the class president. Also known as the “Ol’ Professor of Swing,” Kyser became one of the wildest and most 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. Over the next two decades, 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 greats of the time like Lucille Ball and John Barrymore.

In 1941, Kyser was the first person to perform live at camp shows for U.S. military personnel, predating 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.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Planter and Politician Elias Carr

Image from the State Archives.

On July 22, 1900, Elias Carr, planter and former governor, died at “Bracebridge Hall,” his home in Old Sparta for most of his life.

Born in 1839 to early settlers and planters in Edgecombe and Nash Counties, Carr was orphaned with the death of his mother in 1840 and his father in 1843. He was raised by an aunt and uncle in Warren County where he received his early schooling before finishing his education at UNC and the University of Virginia.

Carr was an enlightened farmer, and his use of scientific methods in his varied agricultural endeavors made him very wealthy. In 1887, he became the first president of the North Carolina Farmer’s Association and as such he became well known throughout the state.

After gaining significant political experience with the Farmer’s Alliance, Carr was nominated for governor by the Democratic Party in 1892 and won the office. His single term in the state’s top job was marked by progressive policies and efficient management, and he advocated for many of the same things he championed before entering the political sphere, including better roads and more funding for rural schools.

After his term, Carr retired to “Bracebridge Hall,” where he died a few years later.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Precepts for Colonial Government Set, 1669

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina.
Image from the Library of Congress.

On July 21, 1669, the Lords Proprietors signed and sealed the Fundamental Constitutions of CarolinaThe document, perhaps written by John Locke who served as secretary to one of the Proprietors, established a framework of government for the nascent colony.

While the document recognized the Church of England, it also promoted religious tolerance. It attempted to set up an orderly feudal system with landed gentry, freemen, “leet-men” (similar to serfs), and slaves.

The Proprietors were given authority to grant titles, but not titles that existed in England, so they came up with landgrave (a title used in central Europe) and cacique(a term used for chiefs by some Caribbean natives). The Constitutions proposed a relatively low threshold for giving property owners the right to vote.

The complex document, with 111 often impractical provisions, was never popular among the residents of Carolina. One element of the Constitutions that came to fruition was the Palatine Court which operated in the colony for about 50 years and in some ways was a precursor to our modern legal system.

The full text of the Fundamental Constitutions is available on the Yale Law School’s website.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Sensational 1890s Murder in Winston-Salem

The Zinzendorf Hotel. Image from the Forsyth County Public Library.

On July 20, 1892, Ellen Smith was fatally shot by Peter DeGraff near the Zinzendorf Hotel in Winston-Salem. The murder became the subject of a popular turn-of-the-century ballad, “Poor Ellen Smith.”

The maid in the home of a Winston-Salem merchant, Smith became pregnant while romantically involved with DeGraff, a local ladies’ man and ne’er-do-well. The child was stillborn or died after birth during a visit to Smith’s family in Yadkin County. On that visit, Smith was allegedly accompanied by DeGraff, who denied that the child was his.

A headline in Winston paper announcing the discovery of Smith's body. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill.

A headline in Winston paper announcing the discovery of Smith’s body. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill.

DeGraff subsequently broke off the relationship and threatened to shoot Smith if she attempted to contact him again. On July 17, the two had a major quarrel at the home of Smith’s employer. Tensions cooled the next day and DeGraff sent a note Smith telling her that he loved her and asking to see her on evening of the 20th. Smith’s body was found the next morning when individuals were directed to the site by a man who was apparently DeGraff himself.

DeGraff soon fled and lived under an assumed name in Mt. Airy, but returned in June 1893 and was arrested. At the trial, the accumulated evidence pointed convincingly towards DeGraff, who pled innocence, as the killer.

Convicted, DeGraff’s execution was held in 1894. He confessed to the murder in front of the large crowd of onlookers right before he was executed.

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Country Music’s International Ambassador, George Hamilton IV

George Hamilton IV

George Hamilton IV. Image from
the The Tennessean.

On July 19, 1937, country music star George Hamilton IV was born in Winston-Salem. While a student at UNC, the young Hamilton recorded “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” at the independent Chapel Hill label, Colonial Records.  The song eventually became a gold record.

Hamilton left Chapel Hill for Nashville to pursue a career in country music and was invited to join the Grand Old Opry in 1960. Later that year he signed a record contract with RCA.

His fame quickly rose, and in 1963, he topped the Billboard Country chart with “Abilene.” After his popularity declined in America in the 1970s, he began travelling internationally, and had events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The activities earned Hamilton the nickname of “The International Ambassador of Country Music.”

In 2010, Hamilton was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. He died in 2014.

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John Lederer, Trailblazer

A map of John Lederer’s expeditions. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill.

On July 18, 1670, German-born explorer John Lederer ended his trip through the Carolina Piedmont north of what’s now Roanoke Rapids. Lederer’s expedition predated the much better-known trip led by naturalist John Lawson by 30 years.

Trained as a physician in Hamburg, Lederer arrived in Virginia in 1669, where Governor William Berkeley encouraged him to search for the Pacific Ocean. His journey helped allay many of the colonists’ fears about the backcountry.

Lederer began his journey with 21 militiamen and a Susquehanna Indian guide. Afraid of getting lost, the group pursued a straight compass course, ignoring several known Indian paths and encountering numerous natural obstacles. After 12 days of laborious path-cutting, the militiamen turned back, leaving Lederer and the guide to continue alone.

Together the pair demonstrated that explorers could survive amongst the wilderness and native peoples, and that large armed expeditions such as those undertaken by Spaniards a century earlier were not necessary for exploring the interior.

The militiamen who deserted Lederer spread stories that served to discredit the explorer. Claims related to his journey were doubted and scorned. Lederer moved to Maryland in shame, but in time regained his reputation.

His accounts are still widely studied by cartographers, historians and ethnologists today. You can read them for yourself on the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Archaeology’s website.

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Thomas Cary and Tumult of the Proprietary Period

A 1708 proclamation concerning Cary.
Image from the State Archives.

On July 17, 1711, Thomas Cary was exiled from Carolina after a failed uprising that is now known as Cary’s Rebellion.

With support from the Anglican establishment that dominated the colony’s political scene at the time, Cary was appointed Governor of the Province of Carolina in 1705.

While the Quakers sent a representative to England to convince the Lords Proprietors to oust Cary, he tapped William Glover as his deputy and left to pursue business interests in South Carolina. Glover, supported by residents of Albemarle region, was elected chief executive in 1707.

Edward Hyde, who replaced Cary as governor, tried unsuccessfully to capture Cary, and Cary retaliated by instigating a rebellion that was put down by royal marines dispatched from Virginia. Cary was taken back to England, and held for a year before being released without further punishment.

Cary had a change of heart in 1708 and switched his allegiances to the Quakers, who, along with the residents of Bath, saw him as a better alternative to Glover. Cary and his supporters regained control of the government and remained in power until 1711 when Hyde arrived in North Carolina, claiming the governorship of the colony and calling for Cary’s arrest.

Hyde sent a force to capture Cary at his home, but was unsuccessful. Cary retaliated by outfitting a ship and sailing into the Albemarle Sound with intent of overthrowing the government. Royal marines dispatched from Virginia put down the rebellion, and Cary was taken back to England, where he was held for a year before being released without further punishment.

He returned to Bath where he died a few years later.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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