Two of America’s most prominent professional sports teams have severed ties with iconic singer Kate Smith and her revered rendition of ‘God Bless America’ because of revelations that other Smith songs promoted racism against Blacks during the early 1930’s.
The New York Yankees baseball team decided on April 18 that Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" would no longer be played at Yankee Stadium, citing "That's Why Darkies Were Born" along with another controversial song sung by Smith, "Pickaninny Heaven".
The Yankees had played Smith's recording of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A spokesperson told the New York Daily News, "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. And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity."
Then on April 19, the Philadelphia Flyers followed to cover up a statue of Smith that stood outside the Wells Fargo Center, in the City of brotherly love, ultimately determined to remove the statue on April 21.
In a statement Flyers President Paul Holmgren said, "The NHL principle 'Hockey is for Everyone' is at the heart of everything the Flyers stand for. As a result, we cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today."
Smith, who died in 1986 at age 79, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the United States' highest civilian honor — from President Ronald Reagan in 1982 in honor of her artistic and patriotic contributions.
In his remarks, Reagan said: "It's been truly said that one of the most inspiring things our GIs in World War II, Europe and the Pacific, and later in Korea and Vietnam, ever heard was the voice of Kate Smith — and the same is true for all of us. ... Those simple but deeply moving words, 'God bless America,' have taken on added meaning for all of us because of the way Kate Smith sang them. Thanks to her, they have become a cherished part of all our lives, an undying reminder of the beauty, the courage and the heart of this great land of ours."
The song "That's Why Darkies Were Born" was written by songwriters Ray Henderson and Lew Brown and recorded and released in 1931.
It was prominently performed by both Smith and famous African American actor and concert artist Paul Robeson.
Robeson, was born in 1898, but died in 1976. He was a famous American bass baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who was also known both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism.
His sympathies for the Soviet Union and for communism, and his criticism of the United States government and its foreign policies, caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
"That's Why Darkies Were Born" originated in George White's Scandals of 1931 and was also featured in a 1931 all-star recording of a medley of songs from George White's Scandals, where it was sung by Frank Munn on Brunswick and just as famously part of Paul Whiteman medley sung by Mildred Bailey on Victor.
The controversial song came of age during the problems of the Great Depression which affected virtually every group of Americans.
However no group was harder hit than African Americans, however and by 1932, approximately half of black Americans were out of work.
In some Northern cities, whites called for blacks to be fired from any jobs as long as there were whites out of work.
Racial violence again became more common, especially in the South. Lynchings, which had declined to eight in 1932, surged to 28 in 1933.
The song had also been referenced in The Marx Brothers film Duck Soup. Part of Marx's line, primarily the term "darkies," was removed from television prints of the film in the early 1970s, but the full dialogue was restored in 1980 for home video releases and future broadcast syndication.
Gordon and Revel's satirical song "Underneath the Harlem Moon", recorded by Don Redman in 1932 and by Randy Newman (‘I Love L.A.’) in 1970, explains: "They just live for dancing, They're never blue or forlorn, Ain't no sin to laugh or grin, That's why darkies were born."
William Dieterle's 1936 film Satan Met a Lady, when Arthur Treacher's character Anthony Travers begins to say "That's why..." and is cut off by Warren William's character Ted Shane who says sarcastically "...darkies were born."
Below are the lyrics of the song:
“That's Why Darkies Were Born”
Someone had to pick the cotton,
Someone had to plant the corn,
Someone had to slave and be able to sing,
That's why darkies were born;
Someone had to laugh at trouble,
Though he was tired and worn,
Had to be contented with any old thing,
That's why darkies were born;
Sing, sing, sing when you're weary and
Sing when you're blue,
Sing, sing, that's what you taught
All the white folks to do;
Someone had to fight the Devil,
Shout about Gabriel's Horn,
Someone had to stoke the train
That would bring God's children to green pastures,
That's why darkies were born.