Growing Up in Rocky Mount
James Kern Kyser was born June 18, 1905, in Rocky
Mount, North Carolina. Although his interest in music
wasnt serious until his college days, Kysers
future successes were forecast at an early age.
time, Silas Greens Minstrels were visiting Rocky
Mount. To advertise their performance the band paraded in
full costume through the streets of the small town. A
toddler of 3 years of age, Kyser had followed the band,
beating on his mothers best aluminum pot.
Kysers roots were
well-established in the South, and his relatives were
prominent doctors, lawyers and professors, who had
taught at UNC for more than a century. His brother became a
chemistry professor at UNC, and his cousin served as
graduate school dean. His uncle, Edward Vernon Howell,
opened the universitys pharmacy school in 1897 and was
its dean until he died in 1931. His parents, Paul and Emily
Royster Howell Kyser, were pharmaceutical pioneers as well;
his mother was the states first woman pharmacist.
familys work in medicine might have led to
Kysers interest in improving health care later in his
life. Or maybe it was the fact that he needed care so much
as a child he cut his head open several times, and
broke his collar bone and both arms. "I fell off every high
building in Rocky Mount thats why they stopped
building em," he told Seventeen magazine
contributors in 1940.
In high school, Kyser "went out for
every activity except the girls basketball team,"
according to Seventeen. He was
president of his junior and senior class, edited his high
school yearbook, and formed his own junior varsity football
team (the varsity coach thought he wasnt big enough to
play at the higher level). It was also in high school that
he began leading cheers for the schools athletic
teams, a position he would take in college as well.
graduated from high school in 1923. His was the first class
to graduate intact thanks in part to one of his plans
as senior class president. Kyser had the best students tutor
the "borderline ones" so that every student could receive a
diploma. It was this kind of leadership that would make him
famous barely a decade later.
©1998 All Rights Reserved
Feedback | Credits