Yankees and Flyers Drop Kate Smith’s ‘God Bless America’ Over Past Racist Songs

Yankees and Flyers Drop Kate Smith's 'God Bless America' Over Past Racist Songs
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Racist Doubleheader

April 24th, 2019 – For it’s one, two, th—no, just two strikes and Kate Smith is out. The “Songbird of the South’s” rendition of “God Bless America” has officially been dropped by two professional sports teams. The New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers will no longer play the classic after it was revealed that Smith recorded two racist songs in the 1930s.

The singer, who passed away in 1986 at the age of 79, recorded “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” in 1931 and “Pickaninny Heaven” in 1993.” The former song was originally written as part of the Broadway revue “George White’s Scandals” and many people believe that it was intended to be a satire of white supremacy. It was also recorded by Paul Robeson, an African American artist and civil rights advocate.

Lyrics from “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” include:

“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.”

Smith sang “Pickaninny Heaven” in the 1933 film Hello, Everybody! During a scene, she intros the song by saying she’s singing it for “a lot of little colored children who are listening in at an orphanage in New York City.” As the song goes on, it imagines a pickaninny heaven where “Mammy” is waiting to welcome them with “great big watermelons” and “luscious pork chop bushes.”

The Philadelphia Flyers have had a long relationship with Smith — one that many believed was a good luck charm for the hockey champs. She sang “God Bless America” on the ice before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals when the Flyers went on to beat the Boston Bruins.

While recognizing the long history between the two, the Flyers announced that it would stop playing Smith’s rendition and would also remove the statue they erected of her in 1987.

“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,” Flyers President Paul Holmgren said. “While Kate Smith’s performance of ‘God Bless America’ cannot be erased from its place in Flyers history, that rendition will no longer be featured in our game presentations.”

Yankees and Flyers Drop Kate Smith's 'God Bless America' Over Past Racist Songs
The Flyers covered the statue on Friday but by Sunday had removed it completely.

For their part, the Yankees echoed a similar stance. While their relationship with Smith doesn’t span as many decades, she had also become a staple at the stadium. Her rendition of “God Bless America” was played for fans during every 7th inning stretch after the 9/11 terror attack.

“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 said. “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.”

Several people, including local Philadelphia Black Lives Matter activists, are thankful for the decision but surprised it took the Flyers so long to scrub the singer. Asa Khalif told The Inquirer that he had sent many messages to the organization over the past year.

Others in leadership disagree with the move to “rewrite history.” Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano will be sticking to his city’s original game plan despite the growing controversy. The beachside New Jersey town has played Smith’s “God Bless America” (as well as The National Anthem) on the boardwalk every morning at 11 a.m. for the past 20 years.

“I’m just a small-town mayor and I look at what’s happening to the world and it’s amazing how everyone wants to rewrite history, no one wants to allow history to be an educator to help us improve in the future,” Troiano told talk show host Dom Giordano. “We’re going to change history and what we don’t like we’re just going to erase. It’s a patriotic song that has nothing to do with anything other than America.”

Do you think the Yankees and the Flyers made the right decision in pulling Kate Smith’s “God Bless America?”

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