In the 1930s, the Yankees did not allow black ball players on their team. In the 1930s, a young Kate Smith sang two songs, that would be classified as racially insensitive today, as part of her role in two movies. Now the Yankees with their 2019 hindsight have decided they can’t use a Kate Smith rendition of “God Bless America” at their games because she sang those songs back in the 1930s when the Yankees discriminated against black players. The Philadelphia Flyers have gone further and removed her statue from in front of their arena.
No one is asking for the banning of the Yankees from professional baseball because of the team’s racist past. Of course, you can always argue that the Yankees matured and integrated their team. But then if you look more carefully at Kate Smith’s life, which the Yankees, Flyers and main stream media did not do, you will find that Smith also grew up.
In the early 1940s, when the Yankees still did not allow blacks to play on their team, Smith had black musicians and entertainers on her radio variety show more than 40 times, including Bill Robinson (Bojangles), Count Basie, Cozy Cole, the Deep River Boys, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Duke Ellington, Eddie Haywood, Ethel Waters, the Ink Spots, the King Cole Trio, Maurice Rocco, and the Southernaires.*
When Smith went on television in the 1950s, she also had black musicians and dancers on her variety show, including Josephine Baker, the Four Step Brothers, Billy Williams by himself, the Billy Williams Trio, the comedic duo Howell and Radcliff and Eddie Condon’s racially integrated combo, to name a few.
I am not opposed to the removal of all statues. And there may be times when it is wise to not use someone’s music. But this is not one of them. Besides being a great singer, mc of numerous variety shows and fundraiser for our efforts in World War 2, Kate Smith was an early integrator of radio and television. She was no racist.
Ignorance is no vice. Ignorance combined with arrogance, however, is no virtue. It’s unfortunate the Yankees, the Flyers, black activist groups that pushed for the removal of Kate Smith’s music and statue and the media which did not dig deep enough to get the entire story of Kate Smith’s life remain arrogantly ignorant of Kate Smith’s contributions to America. Kate Smith grew up. When will they?
*Information on Kate Smith’s radio program and guests came from the revised edition of the book, Kate Smith On the Radio A Log, by Richard K. Hayes and published by the Kate Smith/God Bless America Foundation of Cranston, RI in 1992. The book is rare and hard to find. Information on Kate Smith’s television program came from viewing numerous episodes on youtube and the Internet Archives. Additional information can be found in
Learn more about Kate Smith.