The Philadelphia Flyers have removed the statue of singer Kate Smith from outside their arena and will no longer play her rendition of “God Bless America,” a version synonymous with the team, after some of the late singer’s racially insensitive songs resurfaced.
“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,” the team said in a statement Sunday. “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.”
Smith became a Flyers’ good-luck charm when she performed the song live before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals and the Flyers beat Boston, winning the first of back-to-back Cups. Her statue was erected outside the Spectrum in 1987 and moved to the Xfinity Live! entertainment complex near the team’s new arena in 2011. It initially was covered Friday with a dark tarp after her song list was first reported by the New York Daily News.
“The NHL principle ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ is at the heart of everything the Flyers stand for,” Flyers President Paul Holmgren said in the statement. “As a result, we cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today.” The team added that the statue was removed “to ensure the sentiments stirred this week are no longer echoed.”
Last week, the New York Yankees announced that they would suspend the use of her version of the song, which had been played regularly during the seventh-inning stretch since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Their decision was reached in part because of Smith’s recordings of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and “Pickaninny Heaven.” The former song originated in the 1931 Broadway revue “George White’s Scandals” and was purported to be a satire of white supremacists. Both Smith and Paul Robeson, the actor and civil rights activist whose father was a runaway slave, recorded the song, which included the lyrics:
“Someone had to pick the cotton/Someone had to plant the corn,
“Someone had to slave and be able to sing/That’s why darkies were born.
“Someone had to laugh at trouble/Though he was tired and worn,
“Had to be contented with any old thing/That’s why darkies were born.”
Whether the lyrics were intended as satire or not, the Yankees determined that they are insensitive and are reportedly investigating before determining whether to permanently end use of Smith’s version of “God Bless America.”
“The Yankees have been made aware of a recording that had been previously unknown to us and decided to immediately and carefully review this new information,” a team spokesman told the Daily News last week. “The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously.
“And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.”
The husband of Smith’s niece, Suzy, noted that she performed the two songs while she was “trying to make her mark” in her 20s.
“It’s somebody who found the words to two songs that she sang, out of 3,000 that she recorded, and tried to make a case out of it,” Bob Andron, 74, told USA Today. “And my heart goes out to them, too. Because they’re misguided. They don’t understand what kind of a person Kate Smith was.”
Her niece added, “Aunt Kathryn really did not see color. 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.”
One of the first big stars of radio, Smith also appeared on Broadway and in several movies. Her film appearances included the 1933 movie “Hello, Everybody!” in which she sang “Pickaninny Heaven.” In a scene in which she sang to black children listening to her on the radio, she dedicated the song to “a lot of little colored children living in an orphanage” and sang of how “great big watermelons roll around and get in your way” and “luscious pork chop bushes bloom right outside your doorway.”
Smith, known as the “Songbird of the South,” died in 1986 at age 79.
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