Kay Kyser's Band

Harry Babbitt
- A St. Louis native, Harry is arguably one of the strongest links in the Kay Kyser success story. Possesing a smooth tenor, as well as the high voice (known as "Little Audrey") in many KK songs such as "Three Little Fishes", Harry's talent for mimicry was invaluable to the band. His credit is long overdue for having one of the finest singing voices in the business, and he played a big part in early TV after the Kyser band, both with Steve Allen and as part of "Bandstand Review". Personable and professional, Harry is the one responsible for giving me the idea for this documentary. Harry died at age 90 in April, 2004. Click Here to see our tribute.

Ginny Simms
- Originally from San Antonio, Ginny was the Kyser band's first permanent female voice, and added a touch of class to the maniacal mix. Her duets with Harry still stand as one of the cornerstones of the Kyser band's appeal. Leaving the band after 7 years and 3 films, Ginny did well on her own with several radio shows and film roles, eventually leaving the biz for real estate ventures.. Ginny died in 1994.

Ish Kabibble
- Everyone's heard the name, but from where? Ish (Merwyn Bogue) got it from his comedy version of an old Yiddish song, "Isch Ga Bibble" (loosely translated, it means "I should worry?"), which he performed after joining Kay in 1931. The public (and band) began calling HIM Ish and the name stuck. Raised in Erie, Penn., the fine cornetist developed the rural "Ish" character with pudding bowl hair, who constantly interrupted the show to recite nonsensical poems to a frustrated Kay, becoming his onstage comedy foil. But he was no dummy offstage- he handled the payroll! Ish stayed with the band 'til Kay's retirement. He then went on to a solo career, sold real estate, and played Vegas with his fine Dixieland outfit, The Shy Guys. LSU Press published his autobiography written w/ his sister in 1989. No book has been published on Kay himself. Ish died shortly after Ginny in 1994.

Sully Mason
- Often overlooked, but one of the original 6 members of Kay's band, Sully played alto sax and sang the "rhythm" and scat-style songs that were so popular, lending energy and a musicality to the swing and novelty numbers. "Sassy" Sully, as Kay called him, died in the 70s.

Georgia Carroll Kyser
- "Gorgeous" Georgia Carroll, as she was introduced, came to the band in 1943. As a famous model, she adorned the cover of many a major magazine, but joined the band as a vocalist while under contract to Warner Bros. as an actress. Sent from the studio to help at Kyser camp shows, it was discovered that she could sing, and Kay offered her a job. In June of '44, she married the "Ol' Professor", 15 years her senior, and retired from the band a year and a half later to raise their family. Georgia has been very generous with her time and efforts to help with this project, inviting me to stay in the Kyser home over a weekend while interviewing her and doing research. Still active and attractive, Georgia resides in North Carolina

George Duning
Enough cannot be said of Duning, Kay's musical right-hand man and arranger for much of the Kyser catalog. The band's sound was pretty much his sound. After Kyser, George went on to score such films as "Picnic", and "The World of Suzie Wong". An Oscar nominee, George passed away in early 2000.

Michael (Mike) Douglas
- Known to most of America as the singing variety/ talk show host, Michael was the lead voice on Kyser hits, "Ol' Buttermilk Sky", "The Old Lamplighter", "Coffee Time", and others. Douglas replaced Harry Babbitt when Harry went into the Navy, and again when the "Kollege" went to TV. Judging from his later success, he must have liked it there! Always generous with crediting Kay as his mentor (and changing his name from Michael Dowd), Michael Douglas is alive and well at this writing. (Hey Mike, email me!)

Roc Hillman
- Guitarist/ composer Roc is one of our interview subjects for the program, and a personal friend. The Kyser hit, "Pushin' Sand" was cowritten by Roc, also responsible for other big hits such as "My Devotion", "Cumana", and "Come Runnin'". Roc came to the band after first playing with the Dorsey Bros. Orchestra, then Jimmy's when the brothers split. He was replaced by "Boof" Turner while in the service, but reclaimed his guitar position after the war. After the Kyser days, Roc has had continued success through recording, writing, and teaching. Roc currently resides in California.


Roc Hillman (right) joins Ish Kabibble (left), Bobby Guy (next to Hillman) and an unidentified band member in the NBC studio.

James Rosy" McHargue
- Clarinet/ tenor saxman Rosy came from Ted Weems' band to play with Kay in '43. A Rosy solo was prominently featured (w/ Marilyn Maxwell) in that year's Kyser film, SWING FEVER. Another bandmember we interviewed on-camera, Rosy flatly stated, "Kay Kyser could have been President! He could sway people...big crowds. He was an orator." Rosy had continued success in music, and passed away in 1999.

Jack Martin
- Tenor sax/ vocalist on many Kay Kyser songs, both with trombonist Max Williams (as"Jack and Max"), and solo vocal on "Strip Polka" and "Alexander the Swoose" recordings, among others. Jack is deceased.

Trudy Erwin
- Vocalist after Ginny Simms. Best known for duet with Harry, "Who Wouldn't Love You". Came from harmony group, the Music Maids, on the Bing Crosby show. Married Bing's sound engineer, Murdo Mackenzie. "My real name's Virginia, but after Ginny left, Kay didn't want anything to do with a "Virginia", so he decided on 'Trudy'", said the singer in a 1998 phone interview. Trudy and Murdo reside in Oregon.

Ernani "Noni" Bernardi
- Noni is the last of our on-camera interview subjects for KAY KYSER- THE OL' PROFESSOR OF SWING! Replacing Armand Buissaret on alto sax in 1940, Noni had played w/ Benny Goodman previously. Also a talented arranger, after the KK band he became a building contractor and got involved in city government. Noni is still active in music, and resides in California.

Herman "Heinie"Gunkler
- Herman joined Kay in 1937 while making his way to Hollywood. Up to that point he'd been playing jazz clarinet, but ended up staying with the band until 1943, when he entered the service. He returned in '45, staying 'til '48, after which he continued in music. He eventually got into the boat business, and stopped playing entirely. Herman was always one of the most visible on the bandstand, centerstage. His youthful appearance remains today, and he lives near Palm Springs, Ca.

Bobby Guy
- Bobby joined the Kyser band on trumpet in the Spring of '36. A slightly imposing appearance betrayed a friendly personality. Georgia Kyser says, " You could hear Bobby Guy's laugh from across the room. He had a wonderful sense of humor." Except for his stint in the service, Bobby stayed with the band until '49. He freelanced after his KK band days, and married actress/singer Rose Marie, of the Dick Van Dyke Show. Guy is deceased.

Lyman Gandee
- In Ish's autobiography, Ish states that "Our pianist Lyman was so good he didn't have to think about what he was doing, so he'd spend his time thinking up practical jokes to play on the band."(paraphrased). All bandmembers interviewed agree that Lyman was the joker in the deck. He was also an outstanding pianist. Ain't it easy when you know how? You knew when Lyman played that this was not just a novelty band. Lyman is deceased.

Jack Barrow
- Jack joined in 1931 in Dayton, Ohio. His trombone glissandos were a big part of the early Kyser sound. He left to play with Jan Garber in 1935. Jack helped us out w/ his fine scrapbook of early Kyser press material. He died in 2001 at age 89.

Bill "Smilin'" Stoker, Arthur Wright, Art Wilson
- All early KK vocalists, Stoker doubled on clarinet and tenor sax and was original vocalist on KK theme, "Thinking of You". Wright was known for his high tenor. Not much available on Wilson. Stoker was replaced in early '37 by Harry Babbitt.

Space prevents profiles on every Kay Kyser Orchestra alumnus, so let's give an Honorable Mention to:

Early days-
Muddy Berry, Benny Cash, George Sturm, Bill Rhoads, John White, Art Walters, Charles Kraft, Ray Michaels, Al Shmidt, Mary Wine, Wade Thomas, Claude Nelson, Arno Lewis, Jimmy Turner, Dick Mackie, Marion Reed, George Wetherwax

Middle period-
Dick Barry, Armand Buissaret, Morton Gregory, Lloyd Snow, Harry "Breezy" Thomas, Charles Chester, Pokey Carriere, Max Williams, Eddie Shea, Willard Brady, Don Whittaker, Keith Eckert, Tommy Jones, Dorothy Dunn, Julie Conway, Diane Pendleton, Van Alexander, Bob Fleming, Herbie Haymer, Joe Howard (also played character Ferdie Froghammer), Ormond Downes, Bill Fontaine, Deacon Dunn, Dale Brown, Slim Davis, Uan Rasey, Clyde Rogers, Jess Bourgeois.

Later Period-
the Town Criers (Lucy Ann, Vernon, Elva, and Gordon Polk), Jerry Fielding, Dolly Mitchell,Carl Hoff, Charlie Parlato, Don Leslie, Buddy Baker, Wally Klein, Donna Wood, Gloria Wood, Vern Rowe, King Jackson, Loulie Jean Norman, Judd Conlon, Barclay Allen, Jane Russell (yep, THAT one), Arnold Pritikin, Paul and Jerry Vanderhoof, Mark McIntyre, Lenny Mach, Sue Bennett, Lisa Palmer, the Honeydreamers( Sylvia Textor, Marion Bye, Bob Davis, Lou Anderson, Keith Textor.

Any names omitted are due to lack of info. Thanks to all for a job well done....

Because of the novelty nature of much of the early catalog, a stigma existed that sometimes labeled Kay Kyser's band as "Mickey Mouse". While it's true they were commercial, there were no better players, singers, or arrangements anywhere. The extraordinary height of success the band achieved on radio, records, film, and live appearances was well deserved, and self-redeeming.

- Steven Beasley



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