Kate Smith’s family members are not happy with the Philadelphia Flyers. Smith’s niece blasted the Philly-based NHL team’s decision to remove a statue of the late opera singer that had long sat outside of the Wells Fargo Center after racially-insensitive song lyrics from her recordings in the 1930s were unearthed.
Smith’s niece Suzy Andron told CBS Philadelphia she is “appalled” by her late aunt’s tarnished reputation in the wake of the song scandal. Andron also made it clear that her famous aunt, once known as the First Lady of Radio, was not a racist.
“Aunt Katherine was probably one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She was certainly anything but a prejudice person. She loved everybody.”
Last week, the Flyers cut ties with Kate Smith for good nearly 50 years after the organization first started playing the singer’s version of “God Bless America” at home games. In addition to announcing that Smith’s song will no longer be played at Flyers games, the team covered up the statue of Smith that was installed outside of the stadium after her death in 1986, then removed the piece for good.
Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” was long considered a good luck charm for the Flyers—as seen in a widely played video, Smith famously performed the song live at the season opener at the Spectrum during the 1973-74 season—and the team’s winning record when fueled by Smith certainly backed the theory. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported 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 Spectrum.
In a statement about the end of the NHL team’s relationship with Kate Smith, a Flyers rep said that while Kate Smith’s performance of “God Bless America” “cannot be erased from its place in Flyers history,” her rendition of the patriotic Irving Berlin song “will no longer be featured in our game presentations” because Smith’s past lyrics do not align with the team’s current values.
Kate Smith’s niece blasted the move and urged officials to look at the Flyers’ history.
“I think you need to go back and look back at your own history and what Aunt Katherine gave to the team.”
Indeed, big Flyers names from Smith’s ’70s heyday with the team had nothing but good things to say about her. When Smith died in 1986, 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,” Snider said at the time, per NBC Sports.
And legendary Flyers Hall of Famer Bob Clarke, who was part of the team during their back-to-back 1970s Stanley Cup wins and is now the club’s senior vice president, said it seems “foolish” to go back 80 years with allegations against the late singer. Clarke said he met Smith several times over the years and described her as “just a wonderful, wonderful lady.”
Philadelphia Flyers fans were surprised to find out about Kate Smith’s questionable past lyrics, although, like Clarke, not everyone agrees that the statue should have been removed so quickly.
According to The Courier Post, in the 1930s, Kate Smith recorded the jingle “Pickaninny Heaven,” which she directed at “colored children” living in an orphanage and urged them to dream about a place with “great big watermelons.” And in 1931, Kate Smith recorded “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which included lyrics about slaves and picking cotton. The song was reportedly considered satirical at the time and was also recorded by black artist Paul Robeson. Kate Smith also endorsed the “Mammy Doll” in the late 1930s, which was based on a racist caricature of a black housekeeper.
In addition to the Flyers, the New York Yankees also announced they will stop playing Kate Smith’s “God Bless America.” The MLB team began using Smith’s song to signal the start of the seventh inning stretch after the 9/11 attacks.