Nearby, the debate rages over the shunning of Kate Smith, whose version of “God Bless America” has been a fixture during the seventh-inning stretch of Yankee games for 18 years and whose statue stood proudly outside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with the song playing before must-win Flyers games going back to 1969.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen applauds the teams for yanking the song and statue on the news that Smith sang in the 1930s arguably racist ditties, like “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” — while concluding Smith didn’t appear to be overtly racist herself. Yet among the Voice of the People (letters to the editor in the New York Daily News), Lois Pounds of Rego Park, an African-American woman, researches the full lyrics of “Darkies” and finds strength in the argument that the song was a satirical poke at racism — thus giving rationale to why a pioneering civil rights activist and singer, Paul Robeson, would record a song with seeming offensive words.
The truth is, in 2019, the NFL’s Washington franchise has a nickname blatantly offensive to Native Americans, and yet there are still fans who would argue for its continued usage — and deny that it or they themselves are racist. Is contemporary “wokeness” the best measure to assess the hearts and minds of performers 80 years ago? Consider eternal humility a proper tonic.
“God Bless America,” of course, was authored by Irving Berlin, a titan of the American songbook, a man who gave us standards few could consider racist, such as “White Christmas.” Oh, wait.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS