Well before Kay Kyser’s fame as the “Ol’ Perfessor” of his “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” in the swing era of the 1930s and ’40s, he directed a respectable territory dance band out of his home state of North Carolina which recorded three Victor records in the late 1920s; this one is his first.
Kay was born James Kern Kyser in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on June 18, 1905. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a cheerleader and theatrical producer. Though expected to follow in his family’s footsteps of academic achievement, Kyser was persuaded around 1927 by Hal Kemp to take over leadership of his Carolina Club Orchestra at UNC when Kemp went off to strike it big as a bandleader, though he didn’t know a lick about music. To better perform his band directing duties, he took some clarinet lessons, but mostly “fronted” the band, making use of his exuberant cheerleading skills. As bandleader, he adopted his middle initial as his professional name, becoming “Kay” Kyser. After Kyser graduated from UNC in 1928, he took the orchestra touring as a “territory band”, and on November 26th of 1928 and 1929, the band recorded a total of eight sides for Victor in Camden and Chicago, respectively, six of which were released. In 1933, Hal Kemp recommended Kyser’s band to perform at Chicago’s Blackhawk Restaurant, a position earlier filled by Coon-Sanders’ Original Nighthawk Orchestra, which proved to be their big break, and they held that gig for several years. There, Kyser developed the format that was soon to make him famous on radio: the Kollege of Musical Knowledge, with Kay at the helm as the “Ol’ Perfessor”. The band secured a new recording contract with Brunswick in 1935, and during those years, they were joined by popular vocalists Ginny Simms and Harry Babbitt, as well as cornet player Merwin Bogue, better known as “Ish Kabibble”. The “Kollege” made its radio debut in 1938 to great popular acclaim, and soon Kyser and the band were starring in motion pictures, beginning with That’s Right—You’re Wrong in 1939. When the war came on, Kyser and his band got right to entertaining the troops, and once it was through, his popularity endured through the slow demise of the swing era. Though he continued to have hits in the latter half of the 1940s, the Kollege of Musical Knowledge radio show ended in 1949 and was followed by a brief run on television. Afterward, Kyser, who had been suffering from arthritis, used the lull as an opportunity to retire from public life. In his later years, he became involved in Christian Science, to which he had converted in hopes of relieving his arthritis, and served as the denomination’s president in 1983. At the age of eighty, Kay Kyser died on July 23, 1985 in his home state of North Carolina.
Victor V-40028 was recorded on November 26, 1928 in Camden, New Jersey and issued in the “Native American Melodies” series, as they called their V-40000 series prior to May of 1930, which was usually reserved for “hillbilly” music, but also included some regional dance bands. Kay Kyser’s orchestra consists of Marion Reed, Frank Fleming, and Charles Kraft on trumpets, George Weatherwax on trombone, John White and Sully Mason on clarinet and alto saxes, Art Walters on clarinet and tenor sax, George Duning and/or Benny Cash on piano, George Sturm on banjo, Bill Rhoads on tuba, and Muddy Berry on drums.
First off, the boys play a peppy fox trot titled “Tell Her (You Really Love Her)”, an original composition by Kyser, Hal James, and Saxie Dowell. Though not noted as such, the vocalist here sounds to me like reed man Sully Mason.
On the reverse, they play their first side recorded, a waltz of Kyser’s own composition: “Broken Dreams of Yesterday”—not bad for a guy with no musical background!