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

Kay Kyser and his band. Image from N.C. Museum of History.On July 23, 1985James “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.

Other related resources:

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.

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.