Kate Smith’s famous rendition of “God Bless America” will no longer be played at Philadelphia Flyers hockey games or New York Yankees baseball games. The once beloved First Lady Of Radio, who died in 1986, debuted Irving Berlin’s famous song on Armistice Day in 1938 and the song has been played at countless sporting events for decades ever since. But Smith’s recording has now been pulled due to the late singer’s controversial past lyrics.
According to The Courier-Post, in the 1930s, Kate Smith recorded the offensive jingle and video “Pickaninny Heaven,” which she directed at “colored children.” A shocking video for the song takes place in an orphanage for black children and contains extremely offensive imagery.
In addition, in 1931, Kate Smith recorded a racist song that became a Top 20 hit. The shocking song, titled “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” included lyrics about slaves and picking cotton. Smith also endorsed the “Mammy Doll” in the late 1930s, which was based on a racist caricature of a black woman.
Nearly 50 years ago, Kate Smith famously sang “God Bless America” before must-win Philadelphia Flyers hockey games and was known as the team’s good luck charm during their Broad Street Bullies days in the 1970s. But the Flyers’ once magical bond with the late opera singer is now over.
On December 11, 1969, the Flyers began using Kate Smith's recording of "God Bless America."— Action News on 6abc (@6abc) April 19, 2019
On October 8, 1987, the Kate Smith statue was officially dedicated prior to the Flyers game vs. the Montreal Canadiens at the Spectrum. https://t.co/iy2JQMuQex
Kate Smith – who first sang “God Bless America” live before the Flyers’ home opener at the Philadelphia Spectrum during the 1973-74 season – sang her way through the Flyers’ back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in the mid-1970s. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Flyers went 101-31-5 in games where Smith’s version of the song aired, including 3-1-0 when Smith sang the song live at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Kate Smith was later immortalized with a statue outside of the Philadelphia Flyers’ arena and her song continued to be played during games, sometimes as a videotaped duet with Philadelphia singer Lauren Hart.
The bond between Philadelphia hockey team and Kate Smith was so great that when Smith died at age 79 in 1986 from diabetes, Flyers chairman Ed Snider was a pallbearer at her funeral.
“She was a wonderful person and an important part of the Flyers’ history. We will always have a special place in our hearts for her. She will be deeply missed by the Flyers and our fans.” Snider said at the time, per NBC Sports.
But after decades of playing the song recorded by their former good luck charm, the Flyers have now also stopped using Kate Smith’s track amid the unearthed racism allegations.
The Flyers released a statement announcing that management was recently made aware of Kate Smith’s past offensive lyrics and that the statue of the opera singer will be covered up outside of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“We have recently become aware that several songs performed by Kate Smith contain offensive lyrics that do not reflect our values as an organization. As we continue to look into this serious matter, we are removing Kate Smith’s recording of ‘God Bless America’ from our library and covering up the statue that stands outside of our arena.”
Longtime Philadelphia sports radio host Howard Eskin says there’s no love lost between Philadelphia and Kate Smith. Eskin took to Twitter to write, “I don’t know what’s happened in the past with Kate Smith and reports of racism, and if so that’ s disgraceful. But on another note, hearing Kate Smith rendition of God Bless America before #Flyers Games is old and tired and should have been gone years ago.”
In addition to the Flyers, the New York Yankees Stadium began playing “God Bless America,” often Kate Smith’s famous recording, after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and continued playing the song for 18 years during the seventh inning stretch. But this year, Smith’s rendition of the song was replaced after the Yankees were made aware of Smith’s history of racist lyrics, The New York Daily News reports.
A spokesman for the Yankees revealed that the club had been made aware of “a previously unknown Kate Smith recording” and are reviewing the situation. The song has been pulled from the seventh inning rotation as the team errs “on the side of sensitivity.”