God Help America: Controversy over Kate Smith’s songs a no-win scenario
Growing up in South Jersey as a rabid Flyers fan, I remember well the live appearances of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" at the now-gone Spectrum. The team had an amazing record whenever she sang the song live or its recording was played before one of the hockey team's big games.
It was not only a good luck charm but stirred the emotions of millions of patriotic, overly emotional fans starving for a victory. She was older even then, in the 70s, way past her prime and not much to look at, but the way she belted out that tune matched the emotions of the hometown crowd.
It still brings a tear to my eye to watch those performances 45 years later. She hadn't performed much publicly until then and her name had all but faded from popular culture at that time.
The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team first covered — and has now removed — a statue of her in front on their new home, The Wells Fargo Center, and taken her song out of the rotation in the arena. The NY Yankees have stopped playing her recording during the seventh inning stretch at their home games. Both of those things meant a lot to sports fans who went with family and friends to cheer on their teams and share precious memories of being at the games.
Now more than 35 years after her death, comes the news that someone discovered that she recorded two songs out of the 3,000 in her career that contained racist language. Language that barely got a notice in the 1930s when she made them, but in today's hyper-connected, hyper-sensitive world, it's a bombshell.
It's a bomb shell if you're running a sports franchise looking to protect it's brand from any number of social justice warriors looking for the latest cause to glom on to, for the sake of making yourself feel like you're a superior human being. To her surviving family, it's devastating.
According to her niece, Suzy Andron, her aunt Kathryn was a good person who didn't see color and treated all people with respect. The recordings in question were made when Kate Smith was in her 20s and looking to build a career in an America with sensibilities far different from today's. But put yourself in the position of the Philadelphia Flyers or NY Yankees. To ignore the findings would seem insensitive. To in any way defend her decisions nearly 90 years late would come off as "racist."
Just as with statues and monuments to historical figures whose mistakes and foibles dredged up centuries later, those in decision making positions are in a no-win situation. If they do nothing, they're labeled as insensitive, evil racists. If they take action, the fans will call them spineless cowards. They might be both. We all might be a bit of both. After all, we're humans, and all humans are flawed — except for today's generation of internet-surfing, keyboard-banging superior beings, who've accomplished very little, with very little prospect of ever doing so.
What will the monuments and remembrances be of the 'great' people of this time who have never made a mistake? If some talented brave singer out there wants to contact me, I can help them write the anthem of our country for today and the coming years. It'll be called "God Help America!"
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