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.

Josephine Baker

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”.

 

 

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  1. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Great quote here from the black thinker W.E.B. DuBois, in The Souls of Black Folks:

    I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil.

    For DuBois, denying this education — which featured the writings of white European luminaries — to blacks, not eliminating it, was the problem.  He closed out the above meditation as follows:

    Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?

    • #31
  2. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Who knew that all you needed to stimulate an interest in history was to mine it for targets to condemn and degrade in light of current mores? Other than that, the post-modernists insist that there is nothing to be learned from history.

    • #32
  3. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    An aside:  Irving Berlin, who wrote G-d bless America, also wrote White Christmas.  Soon that song (written, ironically, by a Jew) will stop being sung as well since the color of Christmas that it portrays is clearly discriminatory.

    • #33
  4. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Thank you @tigerlily. Excellent essay. The sadness created by the left just never ends.

    • #34
  5. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    cdor (View Comment):

    Thank you @tigerlily. Excellent essay. The sadness created by the left just never ends.

    Pretty soon we’ll be the United States of the Eloi.

    • #35
  6. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    cdor (View Comment):

    Thank you @tigerlily. Excellent essay. The sadness created by the left just never ends.

    Thanks cdor.

    • #36
  7. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    An aside: Irving Berlin, who wrote G-d bless America, also wrote White Christmas. Soon that song (written, ironically, by a Jew) will stop being sung as well since the color of Christmas that it portrays is clearly discriminatory.

    Yehoshua,

    Please, you haven’t fully explored all the woke possibilities. Irving also wrote Easter Parade. I’d say this amounts to cultural appropriation by Berlin. Once you go down the SJW rabbit hole the stupidity just doesn’t stop. The possibilities to be idiotic never end.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #37
  8. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    An aside: Irving Berlin, who wrote G-d bless America, also wrote White Christmas. Soon that song (written, ironically, by a Jew) will stop being sung as well since the color of Christmas that it portrays is clearly discriminatory.

    Yehoshua,

    Please, you haven’t fully explored all the woke possibilities. Irving also wrote Easter Parade. I’d say this amounts to cultural appropriation by Berlin. Once you go down the SJW rabbit hole the stupidity just doesn’t stop. The possibilities to be idiotic never end.

    Regards,

    Jim

    And she’s wearing white, too!

    • #38
  9. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I remember when they made a postage stamp of Jackson Pollock and they removed the cigarette from his mouth. This was in the 90s.

    • #39
  10. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):
    An aside: Irving Berlin, who wrote G-d bless America, also wrote White Christmas. Soon that song (written, ironically, by a Jew) will stop being sung as well since the color of Christmas that it portrays is clearly discriminatory.

    I wrote about this today at my site. It’s not the song, though, it’s the singer – there’s a 1928 Bing Crosby tune whose lyrics are also offensive, and there’s not a single argument against Kate you can’t make against Bing.

    • #40
  11. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    tiger,

    How about Gaga

    Whitney Houston

    https://youtu.be/FJwla40gfU4

    The Boston Police

    Actually, I think Kate Smith has the definitive version.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #41
  12. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Paul Robeson: $1,000,000 pipes and a 10¢ head.

    • #42
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    Relax, people, “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings!”….Wait, the fat lady was Kate, can we say that anymore?

    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.

    What’s the difference between a Wagnerian soprano and a Wagnerian tenor?

    Ten pounds, fifteen at the outside.

    • #43
  14. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I was a Flyers fan back in the Broad Street Bully days. They had an amazing record when they played her version of God Bless America instead of the regular Star Spangled Banner. So they started playing it more especially on important games. Come the Stanley Cup finals they brought her to sing in person. The reception of the fans was indescribable. Guess which team won?

    • #44
  15. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Franco (View Comment):

    I was a Flyers fan back in the Broad Street Bully days. They had an amazing record when they played her version of God Bless America instead of the regular Star Spangled Banner. So they started playing it more especially on important games. Come the Stanley Cup finals they brought her to sing in person. The reception of the fans was indescribable. Guess which team won?

    Lose the organist please>

    • #45
  16. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    cdor (View Comment):

    Franco (View Comment):

    I was a Flyers fan back in the Broad Street Bully days. They had an amazing record when they played her version of God Bless America instead of the regular Star Spangled Banner. So they started playing it more especially on important games. Come the Stanley Cup finals they brought her to sing in person. The reception of the fans was indescribable. Guess which team won?

    Lose the organist please>

    Lose the organist? They should have paid him double! The poor guy played an intro, then because of the ovation, he vamped another, and another, and another

    Then, she just dives in.

    • #46
  17. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    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.

    Careful! Yeti has banned fruit jokes.

    • #47
  18. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):
    An aside: Irving Berlin, who wrote G-d bless America, also wrote White Christmas. Soon that song (written, ironically, by a Jew) will stop being sung as well since the color of Christmas that it portrays is clearly discriminatory.

    I wrote about this today at my site. It’s not the song, though, it’s the singer – there’s a 1928 Bing Crosby tune whose lyrics are also offensive, and there’s not a single argument against Kate you can’t make against Bing.

    Yep.  He also wrote “Easter Parade.”  

    • #48
  19. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    I am absolutely appalled at what has just happened to Kate Smith.  She’s no racist.  Lots of people sang lots of songs.  As you can see, Paul Robeson sang the same damn song.  And what does it even have to do with “God Bless America?”  That’s not racist.  The left reveres Margret Sanger because she created Planned parenthood and the abortion industry.  She was a flaming racist who actually promoted African-Americans to abort their children.  She wanted black people to not reproduce, and she is a heroine to these lame brains.  I am absolutely outraged.  When will this politically correctness stop?

    • #49
  20. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    I was curious to see if the songs mentioned were available on iTunes, and discovered that Apple has decided to treat the p-word as an obscenity:

    • #50
  21. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I’ve been expecting this to happen in the great state of Massachusetts, and now it has: “Effort Grows to Change the Massachusetts State Seal, Flag.” There’s an organization called Change the Mass Flag that is growing in popularity and power:

    As we approach the 400th year since the Wampanoag first welcomed European settlers to their shores and helped them to survive the first harsh winters on their lands, it is time to change the Massachusetts flag and seal to reflect a better relationship between all the peoples of the Commonwealth, in the shared awareness of the painful truth of our past, and in hope of peace and harmony in the years to come.   

    That’s just the beginning. Some morning I will wake up to discover my state has been renamed. :-) I know it’s coming. :-)

     

     

    • #51
  22. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):
    An aside: Irving Berlin, who wrote G-d bless America, also wrote White Christmas. Soon that song (written, ironically, by a Jew) will stop being sung as well since the color of Christmas that it portrays is clearly discriminatory.

    I wrote about this today at my site. It’s not the song, though, it’s the singer – there’s a 1928 Bing Crosby tune whose lyrics are also offensive, and there’s not a single argument against Kate you can’t make against Bing.

    Then I’m sure they’ll get around to it eventually. 

    • #52
  23. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Percival (View Comment):

    Paul Robeson: $1,000,000 pipes and a 10¢ head.

    Nah, I disagree. He probably had a $10,000,000 head…and that is the problem with the intellectual left in America.  In the 18th century our greatest intellects created the best nation on earth; in the 20th century our greatest intellects wanted to tear it all down.  All that has trickled down through the government school system (thanks John Dewey, et al!) to produce twits like AOC.

    • #53
  24. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Paul Robeson: $1,000,000 pipes and a 10¢ head.

    Nah, I disagree. He probably had a $10,000,000 head…and that is the problem with the intellectual left in America. In the 18th century our greatest intellects created the best nation on earth; in the 20th century our greatest intellects wanted to tear it all down. All that has trickled down through the government school system (thanks John Dewey, et al!) to produce twits like AOC.

    I don’t think that they were all that great. They only thought that they were. They bought the Russian propaganda wholesale. It wasn’t as much a problem with intelligence as it was with wisdom.

    The first step on the path to wisdom is recognizing that you don’t have enough. That is a step none of them considered.

    • #54
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