Flyers take down Kate Smith statue completely over racist lyrics
The Philadelphia Flyers have completely removed the statue of singer Kate Smith outside the Wells Fargo Center amid a controversy over songs with racist lyrics that she sang.
Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" had long been considered a good-luck charm for the Flyers, who adopted it in the 1960s. It seemed the team won more often when the song was played before a game.
The New York Yankees have traditionally played the song during the 7th inning stretch after the 9/11 attacks.
But both teams announced they would stop playing the song, and the Flyers covered Smith's statue, as they looked into reports she recorded songs called "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and "Pickaninny Heaven." The former is considered by some to be satirical, and was additionally recorded by Paul Robeson, the black cultural icon from New Jersey. The latter includes lyrics about "colored children" fantasizing about a place with "great big watermelons."
In a statement Sunday, the Flyers said they have enjoyed "a long and popular relationship" with Smith's version of "God Bless America. They noted she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for patriotic contributions to the nation.
"But in recent days, we learned that several of the songs Kate Smith performed in the 1930s include lyrics and sentiments that are incompatible with the values of our organization, and evoke painful and unacceptable themes," the Flyers said in the statement.
It quoted Flyers President Paul Holmgren saying the NHL's principle of "Hockey is for Everyone" means "we cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today."
"While Kate Smith's performance of 'God Bless America' cannot be erased from its place in Flyers history, that rendition will no longer be featured in our game presentations," the team wrote. "And to ensure the sentiments stirred this week are no longer echoed, earlier today we completed the removal of the Kate Smith statue from its former location outside our arena."
Family members of Smith told USA Today this weekend they're "heartbroken" by the controversy.
"It's somebody who found the words to two songs that she sang, out of 3,000 that she recorded, and tried to make a case out of it," Bob Andron, 74, told USA Today this weekend. "And my heart goes out to them, too. Because they're misguided. They don't understand what kind of a person Kate Smith was."
Andron is husband to Suzy Andron, Smith's niece.
Stefan Bondy wrote about the controversy for the New York Daily News. He spoke to New Jersey 101.5's Steve Trevelise last week.
"I obviously didn't expect the reaction that it got, "but I think it's a sign of the times and a good sign that the Flyers also reacted the way they did," Bondy told Trevelise.
He told Trevelise he understands cultural mores were different when Smith's recordings were made, "but it's not 1939 and that song is being played to all sorts of people of race color and creed at Yankee Stadium in 2019, so I certainly understand why the Yankees did what they did."
— With previous reporting by Sergio Bichao and Steve Trevelise
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