Yankees Pause Classic ‘God Bless America’ Song After Singer Accused of Racism

Yankees Pause Classic ‘God Bless America’ Song After Singer Accused of Racism
Late Singer Kate Smith performs 'God Bless America' in Philadelphia, on May 13, 1975 (AP File Photo) and New York Yankees players in New York, on April 18, 2019. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)
Richard Szabo

One of the nation’s oldest Major League Baseball teams suspended playing a classic patriotic song, which has existed for more than 80 years, because the singer was recently accused of racism.

The New York Yankees will not play the late Kate Smith’s 1938 hit “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch until an investigation into claims that her music promoted racist views has ended.

Lyrics from Smith’s 1939 single “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” are the main point of contention, specifically the phrases “someone had to pick the cotton” and “that’s why darkies were born,” according to The New York Daily News.

The song was originally created in 1931 for “George White’s Scandals” Broadway revue, which is a popular theatrical form of entertainment comprising of multiple acts, music, dance, and sketches.

At the time, the lyrics were widely thought to be satirical. The song was recorded by both Smith and Paul Robeson who was black.

In addition, Smith’s jingle “Pickaninny Heaven” is also being criticized for encouraging  “colored children” to fantasize about a world with “great big watermelons” and other treats. A video recorded for that song allegedly showed scenes from an orphanage for black children that could be considered to contain racist references.

Smith, who died in 1986, was also questioned for promoting a “Mammy Doll” in 1939, which was based on a caricature of a black woman reminiscent of fictional character Aunt Jemima, which a PepsiCo subsidiary used to market pancake mix, syrup, and other breakfast foods.

The Yankees confirmed it is reviewing the anonymous complaints and will temporarily stop playing Smith’s recording.

“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,” a spokesperson said in a statement to the Associated Press. “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.”

The team had used Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” and sometimes live singers during the seventh inning since the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. The team played an organ version on April 17 and 18 instead.

A statue in honor of Smith has been covered outside of the Philadelphia Flyers’ arena where her version of “God Bless America” was also played before games. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan awarded Smith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom back in 1982.

“‏The Kate Smith statue near the Wells Fargo Center is covered, amid reports the Flyers have cut ties with Smith over racist song lyrics,” Sports Reporter Mike DeNardo said in a Twitter post dated April 19.

Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-Pa.) was pleased to learn the Flyers had covered the statue and removed Smith’s music from their library.

“I commend the Flyers for removing Kate Smith‘s ‘God Bless America’ from their in-house music library and for covering her statue outside the Wells Fargo Center #StrongerThanHate,” he said in a Twitter post dated April 19.
However, American Sports Talk Radio Celebrity Tony Bruno believes the statue being covered is a clear example of political correctness (PC) going too far. ‏ “Shamefull Comcast and NBC hacks bowing to PC pressure to throw a black cover over a statue in the darkness of night?” he said in a Twitter post dated April 19. “Laughable lunacy run amok.”

The Yankees previously stopped inviting Irish Tenor Singer and former Paralympic Athlete Ronan Tynan to sing “God Bless America” after he allegedly spoke in a manner that was considered to be hostile, prejudiced, and discriminating against people with a Jewish background. Tynan apologized for any offense caused, explaining he was just trying to tell a joke.

Richard Szabo is an award-winning journalist with more than 12 years' experience in news writing at mainstream and niche media organizations. He has a specialty in business, tourism, hospitality, and healthcare reporting.
Related Topics