It’s All Up to You! North Carolina and the Good Health Program, Part 1

During World War II, the state of North Carolina received an enormous number of draft rejections due to the poor health of its citizens compared to other states, including problems such as poor teeth and eyesight, chronic infections, malnutrition, tuberculosis, hookworm, and even malaria. The conditions of medical care in the state prompted the Medical Society of the State of North Carolina to urge Governor Broughton to take action, resulting in the formation of the State Hospital and Medical Care Commission in 1944.   Their study of health conditions demonstrated that a lack of hospitals, lack of doctors, and limited understanding of health and nutrition were among the reasons for North Carolinians’ poor health.  At the same time, statistics showed that while 41% of white draftees and 61% of African American draftees were being rejected in North Carolina, young men raised in orphanages (receiving state supported medical care and nutrition) had a draft acceptance rate of 99%.

Medical Department: Dr. Wright, 20 September 1942 (Left), and Physical tests, circa 1942.  From the United States Navy Pre-Flight School (University of North Carolina) Photographic Collection #P0027, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

Medical Department: Dr. Wright, 20 September 1942 (Left), and Physical tests, circa 1942. From the United States Navy Pre-Flight School (University of North Carolina) Photographic Collection #P0027, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

In response to this study, lawmakers, administrators, health officials, and prominent citizens launched the Good Health Program to educate North Carolinians about health needs, raise money for the building of hospitals, and generate support for increased medical training in the state.

One of these prominent citizens was Kay Kyser, a Rocky Mount, NC native whose career as a band leader had taken him to Hollywood. Kyser’s dedication to the Good Health program resulted in the talents of well known musicians, radio personalities, and film stars being recruited for the public awareness campaign, encompassing film, radio, and various print media.

Kay and Company

Counterclockwise from top: Kay Kyser (Rocky Mount, NC), Ava Gardner (Actress, Smithfield, NC), Kathryn Grayson (Actress, Winston Salem, NC), Skinnay Ennis (Bandleader and singer, Salisbury, NC), and John Scott Trotter (Bandleader, Charlotte). From folder P-3550/1, North Carolina Good Health Association Records, #3550, Southern Historical Collection.

North Carolina natives including film stars Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson, Randolph Scott, and Anne Jeffreys, as well as bandleaders Edgar “Skinnay” Ennis and John Trotter, participated in programs and advertisements via radio and movie trailers to increase awareness of the project’s goals.  Popular radio personalities Burns & Allen and Fibber McGee & Molly contributed radio announcements as well.

"It's All Up To You" sheet music cover.  From the Kay Kyser and Georgia Carroll Kyser Papers #5289, Southern Historical Collection.

“It’s All Up To You” sheet music cover. From the Kay Kyser and Georgia Carroll Kyser Papers #5289, Southern Historical Collection.

One of the most well remembered publicity efforts of the Good Health Program was the creation of its theme song, “It’s All Up to You!” Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne (authors of “Let It Snow” among other popular songs), the song was played by Kay Kyser’s Orchestra and sung by Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore.  Copies of the recording were played and distributed to the public by every radio station in state and sent to juke box operators in all major North Carolina cities. Sheet music was made available to the public through Columbia dealers and sent to the superintendent of each county and city school system.

Click the play button below to hear a recording of “It’s All Up To You” from the J. Taylor Doggett Collection (#20286) in the Southern Folklife Collection:

"It's All Up to You" music and lyrics. From the Kay Kyser and Georgia Carroll Kyser Papers #5289, Southern Historical Collection.

“It’s All Up to You” music and lyrics. From the Kay Kyser and Georgia Carroll Kyser Papers #5289, Southern Historical Collection.

So how did the Good Health Plan affect change in North Carolina? Tune in Friday morning for our exciting conclusion…

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