People find Kate Smith’s songs racist — family is ‘heartbroken’
Family members of singer Kate Smith — whose famous rendition of "God Bless America" has been pulled from the New York Yankees' and Philadelphia Flyers' libraries over concerns about racist lyrics in other songs she performed — say 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.
The Flyers adopted Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" in the late 1960s as the perception grew that the team won more when the song was played before a game. According to an article that previously appeared on Flyershistory.com, the team won more than 100 games between 1969 and 2019. The team showed its love for Smith, who died in 1986, with a statue outside its home arena, the Wells Fargo Center.
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 have 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."
"Aunt Kathryn really did not see color," Suzy Andron told USA Today. "She didn't see a person's color. She was very in tune with a person's character. I've always thought that was a model, to not see a person's color but to see their character. And this is why I'm incredibly sad."
Family members also noted Smith performed, but didn't write the songs that have caused controversy.
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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