The Flyers wasted little time in following the Yankees lead.
A day after the Daily News reported the Yankees had stopped playing Kate Smith’s 1939 recording of “God Bless America” in the middle of the seventh inning over her racist lyrics, the NHL’s Flyers made the same call. And took the extra step of covering a statue in her honor outside the Wells Fargo Center.
“We have recently become aware that several songs performed by Kate Smith contain offensive lyrics that do not reflect our values as an organization,” the Flyers said in a statement. “As we continue to look into this serious matter, we are removing Kate Smith’s recording of ‘God Bless America’ from our library and covering up the statue that stands outside our arena.”
The Yankees started playing Smith’s version of the Irving Berlin classic following the 9/11 attacks and the tradition lasted 18 years until this season when the Daily News learned the Yankees were made aware of Smith’s history of potential racism.
The Virginia-born singer recorded a song “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which included the lyrics, “Someone had to pick the cotton. … That’s why darkies were born.”
“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,” a club spokesman said. “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.”
Despite the song’s lyrics being considered satire at the time it was recorded for the 1931 Broadway revue “George White’s Scandals,” the Yankees clearly wanted no part of another controversy with the music performed at the Stadium.
Ronan Tynan lost his regular gig performing “God Bless America” at the Bronx ballpark in 2009 after he allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks. He claimed he was just making a joke, but did apologize for his words.
Smith’s song catalogue also included “Pickaninny Heaven.” The song directed at “colored children” encouraged them to fantasize about an amazing place with “great big watermelons,” among other treats. Her likeness also appears in a 1939 ad that heavily uses the mammy caricature, one of the most well-known racist depictions of black women.
Smith, who was honored by President Reagan in 1982 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died in 1986.
Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” was first played at a Flyers game in 1969 – instead of “The Star Spangled Banner” – and she made her first live performance for the NHL club at Philly’s home opener in 1973. She became a “good-luck charm” for the Flyers and although she performed live at the Spectrum just four times, the team had a special bond with the famed singer. Flyers chairman Ed Snider served as a pallbearer at her funeral, per NBC Sports.
The statue to Smith was unveiled outside the Spectrum in 1987.