He’s forgotten today — and he certainly wasn’t anywhere near in the same category as our previously covered Big Bandmasters, Artie Shaw and Duke Ellington and the Dorsey Brothers — but Kay Kyser was a popular favorite in the World War II years.
He was a bandleader who couldn’t read music or even play an instrument. But he was a showman. Big Bands gripped the public fancy and were the thing in the 1930s. So, Kyser decided that was where his career lay.
Fellow University of North Carolina Graduate Hal Kemp, who was moving up to the pros, so to speak, chose Kyser to lead his orchestra. Then Kyser got onto Radio and came up with a cute idea which, as we might say today, went viral. His program, The Kollege of Musical Knowledge, was an instant hit, and propelled him onto the national scene.
It was a short hop to movies and Kyser and his band of specialty acts were an instant hit. Singers Ginny Simms and Harry Babbitt and “Ish Kabibble” became famous in their own right. Simms, in fact, had a modest film career.
The band had a few legitimate hit records and Kyser with the orchestra, and alone, made several light comedies. He was so popular at the time that RKO gave him top billing over John Barrymore, in Barrymore’s last film Playmates.
There are no “Must See” films in Kyser’s half dozen or so efforts, but catch him and the Orchestra in That’s Right, You’re Wrong (his debut picture, top billed over Lucille Ball). This film highlights his hit radio program and utilizes his tag phrase which was known around the country.
He and the band are showcased in Carolina Blues. The band also appears in Thousands Cheer and Stage Door Canteen.
A side note; Kyser dated Ginny Simms until she left for the movies. She was replaced by model/actress Georgia Carroll, who was billed (should radio audiences forget) as “the gorgeous Georgia Carroll.” She sang with the band on radio and in films, then she and Kyser married, had three children, and stayed married their entire lives.