Bandleader Kay Kyser Dies At 79
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ Kay Kyser, who renounced the fame of his big band sound after World War II to devote the rest of his life to the Christian Science Church, has died of a heart attack at age 79.
Kyser, the self-styled professor of radio’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, died Tuesday.
″In his day, he was one of the top 10 orchestra leaders in the United States,″ said William Friday, president of the University of North Carolina system. ″He was one of the most popular entertainers in his field and in the world.″
″He moved in the world of Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey and Bob Hope,″ Friday said. ″He was in that level in the theater.″
Kyser, born in Rocky Mount as James Kern Kyser, adopted his nickname early in life. He later gave up law studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to lead a nine-man band, and later earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1928.
At the height of his career, an estimated 20 million people listened to Kyser’s Wednesday night radio program of dance music interspersed with quiz questions. In 1940, Kyser grossed more than $1 million and was the biggest attraction for the Music Corp. of America, then the nation’s largest booking agency.
In 1942, Kyser fought serving in the military, appealing to the White House on the grounds that he could do more for the war effort as a civilian than in the Army. He was given a medical exemption, although Army doctors did not disclose the nature of Kyser’s disability.
Kyser decided to give up entertaining while part of a traveling military show during World War II.
He was in the South Pacific, he once recalled, and soldiers were coming forward to shake his hand and thank him for coming.
″That sense of what gratitude really is cured me of commercialism,″ he said. ″There I was in a dirty old jazz band, making more money than all of them. I knew then I’d never play again for the money.″
Kyser married his featured vocalist, Georgia Ann Carroll, in 1944 and spent five years fulfilling contractual obligations. He stopped performing in 1950 and moved to Chapel Hill in 1951 where he spent the rest of his life working with the Christian Science Church.
Kyser is survived by his wife and three daughters, Kimberly Carr of Atlanta, Amanda Kyser of New York and Carroll Bryan of Chapel Hill. Funeral arrangements are pending.