Which big-time bandleader and North Carolina native broke all sorts of attendance records, appeared in nearly a dozen movies, and became the top moneymaker in his field, all without learning to play a musical instrument? If you don’t say Kay Kyser, the “Old Perfesser” — that’s right, you’re wrong!
James Kern Kyser was born June 18, 1905, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina Died in Chapel Hill on 24 July 1985.
Kyser entered the University of North Carolina in 1923. At school, he was active in the Playmakers Theatre. He was also the school’s head cheerleader, establishing the cheering section known as the Carolina Cheerios. In 1937, Kyser wrote “Tar Heels on Hand,” which became the schools fight song.
During his junior year in college, Kyser’s bandleader career began in earnest. UNC can boast of several successful musicians, and Hal Kemp was one of them. Kemp thought Kyser’s popularity on campus would result in bigger audiences for the band and asked Kyser to take over. He did. Kyser decided to use his middle initial, ‘K’(Kay) as a snappier first name.
Up until this time, Kyser had never studied music. He began clarinet lessons but to no avail. The lessons “failed miserably,” his wife said years later. And when he tried to play with the orchestra, the boys in the band talked him out of it. So instead, Kyser performed a tap routine “Kyser recalled in Seventeen.” All you have to do is stand in front of the band, jump around there and make faces; the boys will do the playing.
He found fame and fortune via a hit radio show from 1938-49 called KAY KYSER’S KOLLEGE OF MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE.
1951, Kyser quietly retired from show business, moving his family to Chapel Hill, N.C. He became active in the Chapel Hill community. Through the Kyser Foundation, he gave scholarships to students of music and dramatic art at the University of North Carolina.
Kay Kyser Recordings Listed on the Hit Parade Charts 1940 was the first year of a list of hits on Hit Parade. Because of a national ban on recording from August 1942 to November 1944 and again in 1948, Kay Kyser was not allowed to make new commercial albums. The success of recordings made before 1940 is not reflected in the following. From 1940 thru the end of Kyser’s career he had 3 number one hits lasting 13 weeks or longer “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” and “Woody Woodpecker Song.” 11 top 5 and 20 top 10.