Just when you think it can’t get any more stupid, it does. The march to erase anything that may trigger a delicate mind now includes the charge that legendary singer Kate Smith sang racist songs in the 1930s. Two sports teams now say her rendition of “God Bless America” will no longer be played during games.
Kate Smith died in 1986. She was known for her patriotism and even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1982 by President Reagan as her health was in decline. She began singing for troops in Army camps during World War I near Washington, D.C. at the tender age of eight. She never received musical training. Her career spanned 50 years but only now, after more than thirty years since her death, she is accused of racism. This is inexcusable.
She is most famous for her enthusiastic delivery of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”. Berlin wrote the song’s first version in 1918 during World War I and then wrote a revised version in 1938 during the run-up to World War II. She sang the revised version. It was her signature song.
I suppose we should be happy that “God Bless America” wasn’t labeled as racist. At least not yet, anyway. Smith’s rendition began playing during the 7th inning stretch by the New York Yankees after the 9/11/01 attacks. That ended with the action of one person, a Yankees fan who contacted the team about two songs recorded by Kate Smith. Neither song is known as racist but this is 2019 and everything is racist. One song is satire but never mind.
Smith was born in Virginia and recorded such songs as “Packininny Heaven” in a video shot at a black orphanage where she sang about “colored children” who should fantasize about an amazing place with “great big watermelons” among other treats. She also had another song called, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which include the lyrics “Someone had to pick the cotton” The second song was a satire which was also recorded with African American artist Paul Robeson who was from Princeton. Smith also endorsed a doll called “The Mammy Doll” which was a racist caricature of a black woman in the Aunt Jemima vein.
Following the Yankees lead, a hockey team joined in. The Philadelphia Flyers not only decided to stop using Smith’s rendition of the song but have now removed a statue of her, the team’s good luck charm, outside their stadium, after first covering it in black.
The Flyers put up a statue of Smith outside their arena after a live performance of the song before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Final, according to ESPN. Philadelphia won that game to claim its first of back-to-back championships.
The team statement from the Flyers says her recordings are not compatible with the team’s values.
“The Flyers have enjoyed a long and popular relationship with ‘God Bless America,’ as performed by the late Kate Smith, a woman who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for her patriotic contributions to our nation. But in recent days, we learned that several of the songs Kate Smith performed in the 1930s include lyrics and sentiments that are incompatible with the values of our organization, and evoke painful and unacceptable themes.”
As you can imagine, her family is astounded by all of this and also “heartbroken”. Her niece responded.
“Aunt Kathryn really did not see color,” Suzy Andron told USA Today on Saturday. “She didn’t see a person’s color. She was very in tune with a person’s character. I’ve always thought that was a model, to not see a person’s color but to see their character. And this is why I’m incredibly sad.”
If this can be done to a patriotic American legend in the arts, it can be done to anyone. We already see something as simple as liking a tweet or a Facebook post being used to smear those in public life. I heard “God Bless America” played at Globe Life Park Sunday as I watched the game on television between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. It sounded like the regular Kate Smith rendition but I could be wrong. I hope not. Now that this has begun, there will be no stopping other teams from jumping on the bandwagon.