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Kate Gets Kicked to the Curb
I came across this story the other day at Powerline and I thought I’d write about it here at Ricochet. It’s a now all too familiar story, that of a dead white person being expunged from our culture for some real or perceived transgression against one of the pillars of today’s identity politics (those pillars being race and sex). And that most recent transgressor is singer Kate Smith (1907-1986), most well known for her version of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America“. And what was Ms. Smith’s sin and the punishment therefor? First, the sin. It turns out that way back in 1931 she recorded the song “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”. It was a minor hit, reaching #12 on the Billboard chart. Here’s the song as performed by Ms. Smith;
Of course, the title of the song sounds a bit discordant today. But, the song was neither written nor recorded today and at the time was apparently written and seen as a satirical take on racism as per this article. Lending credence to the idea that the song was anti-racist is that Paul Robeson also recorded a version of the song around the same time.
In fact, when I listen to this song as sung by either Smith or Robeson and read the lyrics I don’t hear a song advocating or celebrating racism or racial discrimination. Rather, I hear a sad, but proud lament, about the condition of black people in America. I’ll discuss Robeson a bit later; but, back to Smith.
Smith’s punishment for her sinful past is that her recording of “God Bless America” will no longer be played during the seventh inning stretch at New York Yankee games as it has been since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 because as a club spokesman stated “the Yankees take social, racial and cultural sensitivities very seriously”. That is not the only punishment for Ms. Smith. To add insult to injury, the Philadelphia Flyers will not only never again play “God Bless America” before important home games as they have since 1969, they have also seen fit to remove her statue originally installed in 1987 at the Spectrum, the Flyers former home, from Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers current home. Ms. Smith had a long history with the Flyers, singing “God Bless America” at the rink on four occasions including the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 6 in 1974. Over the years, the Flyers compiled an incredible won-loss record of 100-29-5 in games which were preceded by “God Bless America.” Here’s a nice account of Ms. Smith and the Flyers written in 2016 before this kerfuffle. All I can say is I hope they never win another game.
Kate Smith Statue at Wells Fargo Center
Kate Smith Statue in a Burqa shortly before removal
I should also note that Smith is also being criticized for another song she recorded, “Pickaninny’s Heaven” which is much less defensible than “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and was recorded for her movie debut Hello Everybody released in 1933. As is their wont, YouTube removed the video of this song as soon as this controversy arose so I am unable to post it here.
So these two songs from 90 years ago are all it takes to make Kate Smith a pariah for the zealots who deign to decide what is acceptable for modern consumption. The rest of her life and career, from God Bless America to the $600 million in war bonds she sold during World War II to the fact that Josephine Baker, who was a controversial person at the time, made her American debut on The Kate Smith Evening Hour television show in 1951, and her other good works mean nothing to the Social Justice Warrior crowd and those who live in fear of same.
I mentioned earlier that I had a little more to say about Paul Robeson, especially in relation to this current outrageous treatment of Kate Smith. Yes, they both recorded “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”, but that is not the issue. What is striking is how the greatest failing real or perceived of each is treated.
Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was an extremely talented and impressive person succeeding at just about everything he put his mind to – academics, athletics, and the arts as his Wikipedia bio describes. He was the class valedictorian at Rutgers, attained a law degree at Columbia University, was named an All-American collegiate football player and also played in the fledgling National Football League and proceeded on a long and highly regarded career as a singer and actor, all of this despite the very real racial prejudice and discrimination of the time. And that’s the rub. Although he opposed racial discrimination here in the United States and almost every biography describes him as a “civil rights advocate”, his record on human rights is really quite atrocious.
Paul Robeson Rutgers Football
He was a Marxist, a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and a devoted and life-long supporter of Joseph Stalin even after he became aware of Stalin’s long list of crimes against humanity. This conservapedia biography of the man is more forthcoming on this aspect of Robeson than is Wikipedia which dances around the issue. Much of this was known about Robeson during his life, and after the end of the Cold War and the opening up of the Soviet archives more was either learned or confirmed. Despite this, his memory continues to receive awards and honors to this day. In a brief internet search, I could find no indication that his communism had led to any posthumous reconsideration of any such honors. Indeed, his most recent honoring just took place this month as his Alma mater, Rutgers, dedicated the Paul Robeson Plaza in his honor on April 15, 2019. The article I linked to and those singing his praises at the dedication were also careful to delicately omit this aspect of Robeson’s life and career.
This discrepancy in the treatment of Ms. Smith and Mr. Robeson for their failings is quite telling. For one of these two, their greatest moral shortcoming was that they either supported, or more likely, accepted and lived within the confines of an unjust racial system many decades ago, while for the other, their greatest moral shortcoming was that they avidly and knowingly supported one of the evilest regimes and ideologies of all time, one responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people, the majority of whom were of the poor, hard-working type whose cause they claimed to champion. Only in a country whose moral compass was no longer pointing somewhere towards true north could we so misjudge which of these two was more worthy of praise, or at least acceptance and understanding, and which was more worthy of condemnation and maybe even eternal damnation.
Finally, Ms. Smith’s original introduction of “God Bless America”.
Published in General
“To destroy a people you must first sever their roots.” —Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Removing Kate Smith from our memory is not sufficient. We must do the same with the song. After all, it mentions a superstition, and it was written by a Jew. A Russian Jew, no less.
You are directed to bring all copies of this superstitious tripe to Central Park next Tuesday for a public burning.
I’m in shock over this. Where will it end? I’m old enough to remember the old Soviet purges. Disguising it as some kind of wokeness doesn’t make it any different. I wonder who’s next. Will they erase Albert Einstein? I mean what a sexist pig. He’s got to go.
I can hear the cries of ‘this isn’t the hill to die on’ already.
The fight against cultural Marxism has become every bit as important to the long-term survival of the very idea of ‘America’ as the fight against the original incarnation. Too bad the political and donor class will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into this fight.
I will add that Kate Smith was a part of my childhood and a part of America. As a little child, I was struck by the fact that here was this ugly, fat woman who had such a beautiful voice that nobody noticed anything else, and that was an important lesson.
But this current lesson is even more profound. Will we learn it before it’s too late for us all?
Knowing fans in Philly, and hockey fans in particular, they should be expected to accept this quietly. </sarc>
Great post, Tigerlily, but also very depressing. There is a small, loud and influential part of the Left that gets its way. They really are no better than Stalinists in their hatred for freedom and fairness.
We need to show them for what they are at every opportunity.
Relax, people, “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings!”….Wait, the fat lady was Kate, can we say that anymore?
I wished I believed they were still small…..at this point, I think they are at the very least a plurality of Democrats.
Really? Is that where it comes from?
I think Addiction was being funny Stina. According to this article, the phrase comes from the fact that most Opera sopranos tended to be “big-boned” as they say.
That’s what I originally thought, but I had to make sure I wasn’t flying on cultural fumes whose origins I was ignorant of, lol.
Kate in a burqa. How ludicrous.
Actually, it was a case of I was trying to be funny which, to borrow from the political world, is a case of “if you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Well I think it was funny, but my ignorance got in the way of the joke :p
If you are going to smear someone’s memory based on a song or two recorded over 85 years ago, shouldn’t you also look at the entirety of her life? When the “scandal” first hit I heard the news teasers say “Smith’s racist past,” not mentioning it only two involved songs from the 30’s. As pointed out, the one song could be viewed as showing how ridiculous the views of racists are. In any event, this was the beginning of her career and I doubt a 200+ pound woman trying to break into movies was given a lot of say as to what material she wanted to perform.
Also, I have always been able to separate art from the artists. I was trying to get my kids to watch the Cosby Show when it was on Bounce but they stopped showing it.
The Yankees were one of the last teams to sign a Black ballplayer, so if the are that interested in judging the past . . . And then I wonder how many of those in Yankees’ monument park would have to be removed if we searched for individual comments they made decades ago? The Yankees have not replaced her with a different singer but with an instrumental version. Did the mere mention of “God” play a role as well?
Stephen Foster had better start rolling over in his grave, because he’s next.
(Oh the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home.
‘Tis summer, the darkies are gay”)
One thing these people don’t seem to grasp is that if you erase all these references which are so offensive when viewed through the lens of our modern-day sensibilities, you also erase all awareness of just how far we have come. But then again, maybe that’s what they want.
He might be OK. Depends on what he meant by “gay”.
haha! Another word ruined by the Left. I went to school with a girl whose first name was Gay. I think of her from time to time and wonder what hell her life has been since the 70s.
I wonder if I’m even speaking the same language as anyone who can listen to that song, read the lyrics, and conclude that it is racist.
It is a glorification of the patient and sometimes even joyful endurance of black Americans under dreadful oppression. They’re mistreated, of course, and yet — they sing, they fight the devil, they shout about Gabriel’s horn, and they stoke the train that takes God’s children to green pastures. That’s heroic, folks. That’s bearing your cross — and teaching the white folks how to do it.
Your treatment of the subject brings out the real context of the events and artistic works that have been falsely framed by another lame SJW tirade. The SJWs are the gang that couldn’t shoot straight no matter how many chances they have.
Finally, you ended on the perfect note. If you can watch that video of Smith singing the song and not feel something then you still haven’t got what it is to be an American. What a shame it is that you still don’t know. It hurts this country, it hurts the world, but mostly it will hurt you.
Thanks for the kind words Jim.
If America was good enough for Ray how come it’s not good enough for some SJW brat.
Paul Robeson had a life-long interest in recording old slave songs, folk songs and even the most tasteless songs for posterity. He really felt that if some of these songs were not recorded, then people would deny that they, and the thoughts behind them, had ever existed. I think Paul Robeson was a tremendous talent and a tremendous dupe, not at all unlike most of the intellectual left of the 20th century (including my in-laws). If you are at all interested, I highly recommend Martin Bauml Duberman’s biography of Robeson. Duberman pulls no punches…he had an agreement with Robeson’s son that he could write what he found. I do believe that Robeson had a nervous breakdown in the late ’50s when, while in the USSR, Jewish friends came up to him and whispered what was really happening there. When everything came crashing down on him, he deteriorated psychologically and then physically. Of course, you have to be truly interested: Duberman’s book is about 500 pages and has about 200 pages of footnotes.
Robeson also recorded Ballad for Americans, which was later recorded by Bing Crosby and also had a revival during the bicentennial.
He was right, and this is what will happen. People will not only forget, but the new young generations will have no awareness or appreciation for how far we have come. They already don’t seem to. We’re allowing them to alter and skew history at such a rapid pace that it won’t be long before the schools teach that 9/11 was caused by Southern Baptists.
Next the politically correct will go after the apparently self-hating Billie Holiday, claiming her “Strange fruit” song was a celebration of lynching.
And hey! “Fruit” used to be slang for “gay”! Oh she is toast.