Hundreds of mourners joined in singing "God Bless America" in St. Matthew's Cathedral here yesterday at a funeral mass for the woman whose rendition of the song helped make her a symbol of American patriotism: Kate Smith.
Smith's voice "has not been stilled," the Rev. Albert G. Salmon said in his eulogy as he stood by the flag-draped casket bearing the body of the famed singer, who died Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C.
Instead, said Salmon, a friend of Smith's from Ticonderoga, N.Y., "a great voice has gone on to join the Heavenly Father."
Smith was one of the nation's most popular singers during the golden age of radio in the 1930s and 1940s.
In a show business career that encompassed almost 40 years she was said to have had more than 700 songs on the Hit Parade.
She had suffered brain damage during a diabetic coma 10 years ago that made it difficult for her to walk or talk. Complications of diabetes had forced the amputation of her right leg above the knee in January.
"Our friend Kathryn is better off because her suffering has ended," Salmon told the approximately 600 mourners who sat beneath the gleaming vaulted arches of the cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue NW.
They included many relatives of the singer, including her sister, Helena Steene, of Raleigh, as well as her nieces and nephews and their children.
Smith grew up in the Washington area and made her first public appearance as a singer with a church choir when she was 4.
Margaret O'Brien, who attended yesterday's service, was among those who recalled the singer from her days as a young woman in Washington.
"I remember Kate Smith years back," said O'Brien. "She started out singing at Chevy Chase Lake. I think there will be a few of us left who will remember."
It was after concluding his eulogy that Salmon called on the mourners for an a cappella rendition of "God Bless America," the Irving Berlin song for which Smith's full-throated voice and contagious enthusiasm seemed created.
Some hesitant, at least at first, others seemingly well acquainted with the words, the mourners, men and women, old and young, blended their voices, reedy sopranos along with quivering basses, to honor the singer's memory with the anthem by which she had honored the nation.
When the last echo had subsided, some in the audience dabbed with handkerchiefs at moist eyes.
Dorothy Cheever, one of the mourners, recalled hearing Smith in Philadelphia 50 years ago.
"It just brought tears to your eyes and gave you the chills when you would hear her sing "God Bless America," she said.
Smith will be buried at St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid, N.Y. Burial plans were incomplete.