Classics in the Carolinas: Kay Kyser

 This fall, Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

“The Kollege of Musical Knowledge” wasn’t the only colligate education 1940s bandleader Kay Kyser received. He was also a 1928 graduate of the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill.

Kay Kyser and his band in 1944

Born in Rocky Mount, N.C. in 1905, Kyser’s mother, Emily Royster Kyser, was the first registered female pharmacist in North Carolina.

Kyser entered UNC in 1923 set on receiving a Bachelor’s degree in law, according to the website “A Tribute to Kay Kyser.” However, Kyser switched his major to economics because “the legal profession meant lots of work,” he said.

An established student at UNC, Kyser excelled not just in academics but in extracurricular activities:

-He was the senior class president in 1928

-The school’s head cheerleader for the cheering section “The Carolina Cheerios”

-He wrote the school’s fight song “Tar Heels on Hand” in 1937

-Acted in PlayMakers Theater

-Was in Sigma Nu fraternity

-Was a member of honors societies-Alpha Kappa Psi, Order of the Grail, Golden Fleece

But it in 1926 during his junior year of college, that Kyser was invited to lead the school orchestra. Up until this point, Kyser had no musical background, except clarinet lessons which his wife Georgia Carroll said “failed miserably.”

Kyser was selected to lead the band because of his popularity on campus was hoped to bring out large audiences.

After graduating from UNC, went on the road with the band but didn’t really take off until the mid-1930s when Kyser hired girl singer Ginny Simms and trumpeter Ishkabbible (real name Merwyn Bogue).

Kyser’s zany style of music is what made him popular.

Kyser’s style was different than other bandleaders of the 1930s and 1940s. He didn’t just play music, the whole band performed in a comedic, fun style. Kyser was known for wearing a graduation cap and gown and showing his southern roots with his signature phrases, “Evenin’ children. How y’all?” and “Y’all’s dance.”

Kyser starred in several Hollywood movies as himself such as “Playmates” (1941) with John Barrymore and “That’s Right-You’re Wrong” (1939) with Lucille Ball. He also traveled abroad during World War II, performing for service men.

But after World War II ended, Kyser retired to Chapel Hill, N.C. with his wife, who was also the band’s singer, Georgia Carroll in 1951.

My mother and grandparents lived in Chapel Hill and would sometimes see Kay Kyser in the grocery store, and also went to the same Lutheran church as his wife. My grandmother said “Gorgeous” Georgia Carroll was just as beautiful in person as she was on screen.

Kyser passed away in 1985, and Carroll remained in Chapel Hill until her death in 2011 at the age of 91. Carroll donated 334 photos and other Kay Kyser artifacts to the Chapel Hill University.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page

About these ads

Y’alls dance, Y’alls dance: RIP Georgia Carroll

“Gorgeous” Georgia Carroll

Texas breeds cows, politicians and beautiful women.  One of these women was “Gorgeous” Georgia Carroll.

Carroll was born on Nov. 18, 1919 in Blooming Grove, Texas and became a model in the 1930s and 1940s.

Ginny Simms was Kyser’s orginal band singer. The two were romantically involved and Simms left shortly after they broke up. Carroll met future husband and band leader Kay Kyser during World War II, according to the Daily Tar Heel. Carroll enrolled in Kyser’s “Musical Kollege of Knowledge” as the band’s singer and the two later were married.

Carroll and Simms were the opposite end of the piano when it came down to talent and personality. They both brought different things to Kyser’s band.

Georgia Carroll was very beautiful and had an equally golden voice. Carroll was demure, classy and soft. She seems like she was probably polite, quiet and sweet in person. On the other hand, Ginny Simms had a beautiful voice, but she also had a lot of soul. She too was pretty but had a bit harsher appearance than Carroll. I don’t know much about Simms personally, but I do know that she went through men alot, and I’ve also wondered if she was working her way up the ladder. She dated Kyser, sang for him, then left when they broke up. She also had one of her big solo breaks in film after dating Louis B. Mayer. However, dating aside, Simms did have a long and successful marriage until she died in 1994.

Mr. and Mrs. Kyser

Kyser left the big band scene in the early 1950s, and moved his family to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Carroll remained in Chapel Hill from 1951 until her death this year at the age of 91.

Kyser was a 1928 UNC graduate- he wrote their fight song and was student body president- and that may be one reason I like him so much. Kyser has a lot of southern charm and humor and went back home to his roots when he retired. Carroll also was a UNC grad, taking 20 years to graduate when she just took one class a semester.  Carroll also helped start a historical preservation society in Chapel Hill in 1972 to save buildings that might be torn down.

On a bit more of a personal note, my grandparents lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina from 1956 to 1961, while my grandfather was teaching and getting his PhD at UNC.  Though Kyser was a Christian Scientist, Georgia Carroll and the children went to the same Lutheran church my grandparents went to. My mom was in the same Sunday school class as some of the Kyser children, though she was too young to remember, and my grandmother saw Georgia in church frequently. She said she was just as beautiful in person as she was on the screen.

Grandmama even said she would see Kay Kyser in the grocery store on occasion, but she was too nervous to say hello. Such a shame.

Rest in peace, Georgia Carroll. She is so beautiful and is yet another classic singer or star who has left us. Not only do I love her for her talent, but I have always been so intrigued that she lived so nearby.

I really had planned on calling her for an interview for my blog sometime, but never could get up the nerve.

Here is a great video of Kyser’s band with Carroll from “Thousands Cheer” (1943).  Carroll sings about 3 minutes in, but it also shows the energy and fun of Kay Kyser:

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page