Both the New York Yankees of major league baseball and the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League will discontinue using Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America.” It has recently come to the attention of teams official that Smith also released some racially charged songs that were titled 1931’s “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and 1933’s “Pickaninny Heaven.”
The Yankees and Flyers both had a deep connection to Smith’s version of the song. The Yankees started playing her rendition at the 7th inning stretch in the aftermath of the attacks of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The Flyers connection with the 1930s pop star runs even deeper. Smith sang the song before game 6 of the 1976 Stanley Cup Finals. That night, the Flyers who were dubbed the broad street bullies, hoisted their first Stanley Cup. In the late ’80s, the Flyers built a statue of Smith to commemorate the moment.
As late as this season, the Flyers would play a video of her singing “God Bless America” before every big game. The Flyers, similar to Yankees, said they plan to stop playing Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America.” They will take it one step further and take down the statue that sits outside their home arena.
This started when a fan notified the Yankees of the two songs that Smith recorded in the early 1930s that featured highly offensive and downright racist content. The song, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” tells the story of the job of an enslaved person and the stereotypical qualities that were associated with Black people at that time.
The song opens with “someone had to pick the cotton, someone had to pick the corn, someone had to slave and be able to sing, that’s why darkies were born.” Smith’s other chart-topping hit was “Pickaninny Heaven.” The singer performed the song in the movie, “Hello Everybody.”
In the film, Smith dedicated the song to “a lot of a little colored children listening in, in an orphanage in New York City,” then singing about “the place where the good little Pickanninies go” where “great big watermelons roll around, getting in your way.”
Both the Yankees and Flyers released statements explaining their decision. 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.”
As for the Yankees, their spokesperson said, “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.”
For someone of the prominence of Kate Smith who received the medal of freedom in 1987, it is difficult to comprehend how two major songs could go unnoticed by two major sports franchises.