It appears that representatives of the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers would have the American people believe that the First Lady of Radio, Kate Smith, was a clandestine bigot. This “grand revelation,” of course, has suddenly come to light some 30 years after her death. Truth is, Kate Smith was as much as a racist as we are from Mars.
On April 18, 2019, the New York Yankees announced that Kate Smith’s spectacular rendition of “God Bless America” would no longer be played during the seventh inning stretch because in 1931 she recorded the controversial “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” The Flyers, subsequently, followed the example set by the Yankees. On April 21, the Flyers had the statue of Smith removed from the arena.
Granted, the entertainment industry in the early part of the 20th century “pushed the envelope;” and, in many cases, “crossed the line.” Some theatrical acts, films, cartoons, and recordings were outright offensive. At first listen, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” contain lyrics that would raise an eyebrow or two. However, the last stanza portrays the song in a totally different light:
“Sing, sing, sing when you’re weary / And sing when you’re blue / Sing, sing that’s what you taught / All the white folks to do.”
In reality, the song presents a satirical view of racism in America. This becomes even more evident when one considers that Paul Robeson, a well-known, black civil rights activist sang and popularized the song as well.
Some may argue that during the early days of Smith’s career, she performed in “black face” and, as such, offended people. Keep in mind, the nation was a lot different during the early part of the 20th century. Kate Smith simply played a role in a production, similar to Al Jolson singing “Mammy.”
Kate Smith was no bigot. As a matter of interesting fact, she called for “tolerance” during a 1945 radio program. In Smith’s words: “Race hatreds, social prejudices, religious bigotry, they are the diseases that eat away the fibers of peace.”
The words that Kate Smith had broadcast in 1945 hold true to this day. And, by no means are those the words of a bigot.
John Di Genio
Albert J. Cupo