The Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Yankees have stopped playing Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America” following renewed attention on other songs the 20th century titan recorded that contain racist lyrics. Smith is buried in Lake Placid and that community is stunned to hear the allegations.
The Philadelphia Flyers removed a statue of the late singer Kate Smith outside the NHL team's arena Sunday and also removed their recording of Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” from their music library. The New York Yankees have also stopped using the song during the seventh inning stretch. The teams took the actions after, according to the New York Times, a single email to the Yankees pointed out racism in other Smith songs. The song “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” recorded in 1939 had originally closed out the first act of the musical “George White’s Scandals,” which played at the Apollo Theatre in 1931 and 1932. The song was intended to be satire. It was also recorded by Paul Robeson.
Kate Smith died in 1986 and is buried in Lake Placid. She had a summer residence there for over 30 years. Mayor Craig Randall says she was well known and frequently seen in the village. “I remember Kate. Having grown up here I frequently saw her on the streets in Lake Placid when she was here. She used to operate or conducted a radio station program from her summer home here on Lake Placid lake. And she used to befriend an elderly lady who needed help and I think Kate looked in on her and looked after her some whenever she was here.”
Randall notes that the songs in question were recorded more than 80 years ago. “I think it’s taken out of context. There’s a vast difference between the 1930’s and 2019 in terms of where our society is on these types of issues and that’s all understandable. But we’re seeing this in other aspects of historical events in our country where it almost seems like they’re trying to wipe out any reference to those events that that are part of our history.”
Lake Placid Hall of Fame Chairman Sandy Caligiore says the group plans to do absolutely nothing in response to the sports teams’ removal of Smith. “We take a look at the entire body of Kate Smith and what she meant to Lake Placid. She was very generous to St. Agnes Church, the local hospital, the Uihlein Assisted Living Center. She supported youth programs. And I think and the committee thinks that it would be very callous of us to turn our backs on somebody that was such a big part of the fabric of Lake Placid given all that she’s done for this community.”
Lake Placid is in the Town of North Elba. Supervisor Roby Politi says you won’t find anyone in the village who would have a bad word about Kate Smith. He remembers her as a wonderful, unassuming and nice person. “This is very unfortunate malicious unfounded and why would we listen to the Yankees or the Flyers? They don’t know what they’re talking about. She was a real patriot. It’s easy to pick on somebody who’s dead and gone.”
Politi also has a suggestion for the Philadelphia Flyers. “I hope the Flyers give us the statue. We’ll gladly take Kate’s statue.”