Kate Smith ‘God Bless America’ Controversy Continues, As Hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers Remove Her Statue, Permanently Ban Her Rendition

Bruce Haring

SUNDAY UPDATE: The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team has now removed the statue of Kate Smith from outside their arena and will no longer play Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” at games, the team announced on Sunday.

The team statement: “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.”

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The Flyers team president Paul Holmgren added a statement, noting “The NHL principle ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ is at the heart of everything the Flyers stand for. As a result, we cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today.”

Smith’s rendition of the Irving Berlin song “God Bless America” has been under fire this week. First the New York Yankees said they were ending playing the song during the 7th-inning stretch. Then the Flyers chimed in, saying they were looking into the allegations that Smith sang several racist songs during the 1930s. They covered her statue with black cloth as a first step.

The Flyers considered Smith’s live performance “God Bless America” a good luck charm. She died in 1986. The Flyers did not indicate where the statue would be sent or if it would be preserved.

UPDATE: The Kate Smith purge continued today, as hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers also said they would no longer play the singer’s version of “God Bless America” at their games.

Smith’s legacy has been under fire after a report surfaced that she performed songs with racist themes in the 1930s. Smith was a major radio and later television star in that era, and was considered one of the top sellers of World War II bonds thanks to her appearances and performances of “God Bless America.”

The New York Yankees started the memory holing, stating they would no longer play her version of “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch after learning of the troubling songs. The organization had played “God Bless America” since 9/11 during the traditional 7th inning break.

Today, in a further blow to the late Smith’s presence, the Flyers announced their ban on performances of Smith’s rendition of the Irving Berlin song, and also have covered up a statue of Smith that has stood outside their arena since 1987.

“We have recently become aware that several songs performed by Kate Smith contain offensive lyrics that do not reflect our values as an organization,” said a Flyers statement. “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.”

The Flyers have long played Smith’s version of “God Bless America” as a replacement for the national anthem at big games as a lucky charm. Smith performed it live before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup final, a game the Flyers won to claim their first Stanley Cup.

The Flyers did not say if they would remove Smith’s statue from in front of their arena. It is now wrapped in black.

EARLIER: The New York Yankees have stopped using TV/radio star Kate Smith’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” during their home games because of allegations of past racism in the late singer’s prior choice of songs.

Known as the “Songbird of the South,” Smith sold tons of World War II bonds by performing ‘God Bless America’ during the 1940s. The Yankees revived it after 9/11 and have used it for the past 18 years during the traditional 7th inning stretch.

“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,” said a team statement. “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 songs in question included Smith’s 1939 version of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” from the 1931 Broadway revue “George White’s Scandals.” It was considered satire at the time and was recorded by Smith and also by Paul Robeson, a black actor and civil rights icon. Smith also sang and appeared in a video for the jingle, “Pickaninny Heaven,” which contains racist lyrics and imagery.

Smith died in 1986. Her radio, television, and recording career spanned five decades, peaking in the 1940s. Her version of “God Bless America” was also performed live for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team in the 1970s. The team subsequently built a statue of her outside its arena.

Ironically, the Smith problem is not the first incident the Yankees have had with “God Bless America” controversies. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, who became a fixture at Yankees games and performed the song before major regular season and playoff games, was banned in 2009 by the organization for alleged anti-semitic remarks made to a real estate agent.

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