A mainstay version of “God Bless America” heard in sports arenas across the country is slowly being phased out after teams have learned of the singer’s alleged history of racism.
Kate Smith was the voice behind the song that played during the seventh inning of the New York Yankees’s games and before Philadelphia Flyers games. But now both teams have retired Smith’s 1939 recording following the discovery of offensive lyrics from her repertoire of songs.
According to the Daily News, Smith was famous before and during WWII and known for songs like “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which both feature controversial lyrics and “startlingly racist” imagery. She also endorsed the “Mammy Doll,” which is based on a racist caricature of a black woman.
There are conflicting theories about what the song “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” is about, in particular because of the context and time in which it was written and reports that it was a satire. Still, a Yankees spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle that they chose to be safe.
“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. The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously,” the statement reads. “And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.”
The tradition of playing the song, which started after 9/11, will continue with an organist playing “God Bless America” live. On occasion, the spokesperson says that a live singer will perform instead.
On Friday, one day after the Yankees announced that decision, the Flyers followed suit to stop playing Smith’s recording. They even covered up a statue of the singer that stands outside of the Wells Fargo Center.
The Philadelphia Flyers didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. However, a spokesperson sent the following statement to the Daily News: “We have recently become aware that several songs performed by Kate Smith contain offensive lyrics that do not reflect our values as an organization. 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 hockey team has yet to say whether they’re planning on permanently removing the statue or not. In the meantime, the black tarp will seemingly remain in an effort to keep people from celebrating or defiling it.
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