Hockey team removes singer’s song statue over controversial lyrics

Kate Smith
ANDRE RINGUETTE/GETTY IMAGES/TNS
Singer Kate Smith is seen on the screen before Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia.

BY WILLIAM BENDER
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/TNS

PHILADELPHIA – First she was covered up. Now, apparently she is gone.

The bronze statue of the late singer Kate Smith has been removed from outside Philadelphia’s Xfinity Live! as the Flyers looked into racist lyrics she sang.

“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. 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 of our arena,” the Flyers organization said in a statement issued on April 21.

Talk radio host Tony Bruno first tweeted around 9:30 Sunday morning that the statue was gone and posted video.

‘Offensive lyrics’

Last week, Philly.com reported that the Flyers were distancing themselves from Smith, the “Songbird of the South,” whose music was seen as a good-luck charm by fans.

“We have recently become aware that several songs performed by Kate Smith contain offensive lyrics that do not reflect our values as an organization,” the Flyers said in a statement.

“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 of our arena.”

It was unclear Sunday morning when exactly the statue was removed or where it is.

Considered inspiration

The statement included the following quote from Flyers President Paul Holmgren: “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.”

Since 1969, the Flyers had played Smith’s version of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” before must-win games, where it proved to be just the inspiration needed.

According to the Flyers, the team went 101-31-5 in games where Smith’s version of the song aired, including 3-1-0 when Smith sang the song live at the Spectrum beginning with the Flyers’ 1973 home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Controversial songs

Smith was born in Virginia in 1907. In 1931, she recorded “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown, which includes the lyric, “Someone had to pick the cotton.”

There is some question about whether there was a satirical nature to the song, which was also recorded by the African American artist and civil rights advocate Paul Robeson, and was referenced in the 1933 Marx Brothers film “Duck Soup.”

In the 1933 film “Hello, Everybody!,” Smith sang “Pickaninny Heaven,” which directs “colored children” living in an orphanage to fantasize about a place with “great big watermelons.”

The Flyers erected the statue of Smith, who died in 1986 at age 79, outside the Spectrum in 1987. After the Spectrum was demolished in 2011, Smith’s statue was moved to the parking lot of Xfinity Live!

Yankees too

Smith’s relatives on April 20 told USA Today that the family is “heartbroken” by the controversy. Her niece, Suzy Andron, and her husband, Bob, said they were shocked to see stories casting her as racist.

The New York Yankees have pulled Smith’s 1939 version of “God Bless America,” which the team had played at Yankee Stadium in the seventh inning for 18 years.

“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. “And my heart goes out to them, too. Because they’re misguided. They don’t understand what kind of a person Kate Smith was.”

‘Bold move’

Local Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif last week welcomed the move to cover up the statue and called for the Flyers to remove it.

Khalif, who is also running for City Council, said he and other activists had expressed their anger over Smith’s work to the team for more than a year.

“We are glad they had the courage to stand up to racism and anti-blackness, and took the bold move to cover the racist statue, but they don’t get four stars,” he said. “The Flyers knew about Kate Smith’s history and her racist lyrics.”

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