12/01/09 By sharon robert
KAY KYSER - THE OL'PROFESSOR OF SWING! AMERICA'S FORGOTTEN SUPERSTAR
Kay Kyser – Swing’s Forgotten Superstar
by Steven Beasley/Author
The just released, first full length biography, KAY KYSER – THE OL’ PROFESSOR OF SWING! AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN SUPERSTAR is a story that had to be told. Big bandleader Kay Kyser was one of the most outrageous, over the top performers of the entire’ swing’ era. From the late 1930s to the late 1940s he was the physical embodiment of the word, ‘success’, with eleven number one records, and thirty-five top tens. He starred in seven feature films with costars such as Lucille Ball, John Barrymore, Jane Wyman, and Boris Karloff, among others. For eleven years he kept his NBC radio show, Kay Kyser’s College of Musical Knowledge in the top ten, and is listed in the National Archive as the first performer to broadcast a radio show from a military installation (before Bob Hope).
But chances are, if you mention the name Kay Kyser to the average adult today, the response would be, “Who’s she?”. There is so much to this man’s story it’s hard to encapsulate it in a few paragraphs, but the point is he has inadvertently been left out of the present day public’s collective memory, partially due to Kyser himself.
You see, he mysteriously disappeared from show business in 1951 and was never heard from by the general public again. Here are a few of his hit song titles for the purpose of identification- “Three Little Fishies”, On a Slow Boat to China”, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”, “Who Wouldn’t Love You”, and many more.
He always shared the spotlight proudly with his vocalists, and they are possibly better remembered than their boss! They were Ginny Simms, Ish Kabibble, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, and later, Georgia Carroll. 1970s TV talk host Mike Douglas got his start with Kyser, providing lead vocals on “The Old Lamplighter”, and several others. Glenn Miller was quoted as saying the only bandleader he envied was Kay Kyser, and the Kyser band often outgrossed Miller and Benny Goodman in live appearances. Kyser and his band played over 1800 camp shows for the military during WW2, and the ‘Ol’ Professor’, as he was called, practically ruined his health by driving himself too hard.
How can someone who accomplished so much be nearly forgotten today?
Author Steven Beasley has researched the Kyser band for 20 years, interviewing band members, friends, and Kyser’s family for this book. There are over one hundred photos from the author’s collection; many are rare and previously unpublished.
Born James King Kern Kyser in 1905, he was a very southern gentleman, and his North Carolina accent proved to be popular with his audience. Some of his radio show catch phrases he was noted for were his standard greeting, “Evenin’ folks! How y’all?” When Kyser would kick his swing band into the next song, he admonished his studio audience and the teens at home, “C’mon chillen, yess’ dance!” Looking dignified in rimless specs and scholarly professor’s cap and gown, he would dance around in front of his band, mug for the audience, and make faces behind some of the quiz show contestants. His nerdish, silly behavior onstage would later influence performers like Spike Jones. However, the difference was Kyser’s band could and did play EVERYTHING well- ballads, swing, and silly novelty numbers. His decision to retire from show biz unannounced after WW2 was reached after numerous attempts to diagnose the arthritic-like condition in his legs and feet. The best doctors could not figure out how to treat the malady. Kay decided to try Christian Science after remembering his mother being healed of pneumonia at death’s door, and her crediting CS with the cure. It worked for Kyser, and for the remainder of his life he worked for the Christian Science church as a healer, lecturer, and toward the end of his life was named President of the Worldwide Church of Christian Science. Kyser died in 1985 of a heart attack, but his music lives on in several CDs available online.
KAY KYSER – THE OL’ PROFESSOR OF SWING! AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN SUPERSTAR is a warm, yet dramatic story, and is the FIRST published full length
book on the man and his band who gave America that ‘makes you wanna dance’ music. Order your copy from www.kaykyserbook.com today. C’mon chillen, YESS’ DANCE!
More Articles in Community Articles
KCC Productions presents Jowee Omicil and the Core
Michael S. Harper: Communication 102
New Look and Vibe for This Year’s Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet
Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra “From Bagels to Bongos” Highlights DC Jazz Festival June 9
Chuck Redd, Honoree at L.A. Jazz Society Vibe Summit, June 9
Tony Adamo/ reviewed by @CriticalJazz/Miles of Blu