By Luke Newbold, Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales, Ltd.
Unless you are a “Big Band Junkie” like my dad, you may not know about Kay Kyser. The “Ol’ Professor of Swing” as he was called, serviced the 1930s-1940s with 11 number one records and 35 top ten songs. The Memorial Day Auction on Monday, May 28th, 2012 at 9am features the Kay Kyser estate, and it may surprise you how Kyser ties in to our thoughts of Memorial Day.
Kyser was born 1905 in Rocky Mount, NC. With his charismatic positive energy he began his musical career at UNC after being persuaded to take over as bandleader. Only five years after graduating “Kollege,” NBC picked up his entertaining radio broadcast announcing Kay as the “Ol’ Professor.” Kyser’s band gained popularity and starred in a number of Hollywood films and entertained sold out performances with several other popular personalities including Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and was even featured in a Batman comic.
After World War II broke, Kyser devoted his time to perform for our military, marking him as the first performer for the U.S. troops. During that time he wrote and performed several war songs including: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” His shows took place in the Pacific at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Philippines. 180 shows later, in the midst of a performance, Kyser was handed a letter informing him the war had ended. Realizing this news would abruptly end the show, he performed a couple more songs before announcing to an audience of home-sick troops that they were going home! Kimberly Kyser (one of Kay’s three children) recalls a recording of her father’s announcement saying, “there must have been over 1500 military personnel gathered on a Pacific hillside and all you can hear is a roar from the ecstatic troops.”
The war changed many people, including Kyser. After completing his contracts, in the 1950s he moved back to North Carolina to settle down with his co-star/wife, Georgia Carroll, and their three daughters. They remained in North Carolina until their passing; Kay in 1985 and more recently Georgia in 2011. Kay continued to serve his local community by supporting “his alma mater, improving health care in the state, establishing public television and a highway safety program…”
Leland Little Auction gallery proudly features a room setting from Kyser’s Chapel Hill estate including many French furnishings, textiles and fine decorative accessories collected by the Kysers throughout their many years together. These objects will be sold in our Annual Memorial Day Estate Auction, May 28, 2012. The sale also includes numerous other estates with special sessions, including: silver at 9:00; North Carolina pottery at 10:00; fine estate jewelry at 11:00 and vintage toys at 12:00.
This Memorial Day we remember the soldiers defending our freedom every day and those who have sacrificed to keep it. Especially we salute Kay Kyser and those like him who support our troops.
“About Kay Kyser;” web; kaykyser.net; 5/21/12; http://www.kaykyser.net/kay.html
Beasley, Stephen; “Kay Kyser; The Ol’ Professor of Swing;” web; midatlanticnostalgiaconvention.com; 5/21/12; http://midatlanticnostalgiaconvention.com/kay-kyser-the-ol-professor-of-swing/
“Biography; A Tribute to Kay Kyser;” web; ibiblio.com; 5/21/12; http://www.ibiblio.org/kaykyser/life/index.html
Kyser, Kimberly; phone; 5/21/12.