Oh, how I love this development!
As Ethics Alarms discussed last week, The New York Yankees banned singer Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” at their games after some individuals claimed she was a racist because of the lyrics of two songs she recorded in the 30s. This was a stupid complaint, and the Yankees were cowardly to react to it as they did, but you know, the Yankees. (I kid: my Boston Red Sox were even more craven for removing the name of their most essential owner, Tom Yawkee, from the street bordering Fenway Park as a virtue-signaling surrender to Boston progressives.)
The NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers had more reason to be loyal to Smith’s memory than the Yankees, for the singer was the team’s good luck charm, singing “God Bless America” at crucial Stanley Cup home games in the early 1970s. Not only did the Flyers ban Kate’s rendition of the Irving Berlin patriotic anthem, it covered Smith’s statue in front of the team’s arena with a tarp, then took it down completely.
Nice. I wonder why they didn’t renounce their Stanley Cup victories, since now they are tainted.
Now it appears that Kate was falsely smeared, misrepresented, misunderstood and mistreated. Continue reading
My father hated Kate Smith. Hated her. The jumbo alto radio star from the Thirties and Forties was still showing up on TV variety shows in the Sixties and Seventies, and my father always made us change the channel when she appeared. Smith had made a virtual career out of belting her four-square rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” and Dad regarded it as patriotic pandering and exploitation. Thus it seemed appropriate that two teams we all hated in Boston, the New York Yankees and the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, periodically used the recording of Smith—and sometimes Smith herself— singing the song during games. Once 9-11 caused baseball to add the song during all games at the Seventh Inning Stretch (time to end that, by the way), Kate’s immortality seemed assured, especially in Yankee Stadium, where her rendition was rotated with a few other versions.
Then some enterprising social justice fanatics and “Hader Gotcha!” masters decided to do a deep dive and find something on Kate Smith. What they found was that among her hits in the Thirties were two songs that make Stephen Foster seem like Snoop Dog. One was “Pickaninny Heaven,” which described a “colored” paradise with “great big watermelons,” and the momentarily famous “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which we will look at in some detail later. These presentist censors—remember, presentism is the fallacy of judging conduct from the past by the updated ethics and values of the present—protested to the Yankees, and that’s all it took to get Kate banished, presumably forever. (The Flyers have also banned Kate.) The mighty Yankees whimpered in a public statement,
“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,. 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.”
My father hated “God Bless America.” He particularly hated jumbo 40’s singer Kate Smith’s rendition of it, which he believed exploited patriotism and combined it with sentimentality and schmaltz to get ratings and sell records. Smith had an unadorned clarion belt that particularly suited Irving Berlin’s blunt melody, and for 30 years she used the song as her signature, as much as Judy Garland used “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Whenever Smith appeared on a TV variety show like The Hollywood Palace, he would order me to change the channel (yes, I was the family remote) for fear that he would have to hear her sing that song.
I assumed that was the reason why I have felt queasy about Major League Baseball’s 7th inning stretch ritual, installed in 2001, of having a recording of Kate or a live singer ring out the Irving Berlin standard at every major league baseball game since the Twin Towers fell. In today’s Washington Post, however, a Methodist minister—my father was also a Methodist, as much as he was anything—explained why he refuses to stand for the song. He nailed it.
James Marsh writes, Continue reading