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Kate Smith's Family 'Appalled' by Flyers' Decision to Remove Statue Over Racist Lyrics

People logo People 4/22/2019 Rachel DeSantis
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(Video provided by CBS Philadelphia)

Kate Smith’s family is none too pleased by the Philadelphia Flyers’ decision to cut ties with the late singer after racist lyrics she recorded in the 1930s resurfaced.

The NHL team, following in the footsteps of the New York Yankees, vowed to replace Smith’s 1939 recording of “God Bless America” as old song lyrics have been reexamined due to what appears to be racist language and stereotypes.

The Flyers took their course correction one step further Sunday, as they removed a statue of Smith outside the XFINITY Live! arena that was erected after her death in 1986.

Kate Smith posing for a photo © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Kate Smith

“I’m appalled,” Smith’s niece Suzy Andron told CBS Philadelphia. “Aunt Katherine was probably one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She was certainly anything but a prejudice person. She loved everybody.”

The Flyers explained their decision in a statement, writing that while the song has a permanent place in Flyers history — it’s been considered good luck for the team since 1969, according to the Associated Press — Smith’s other lyrics do not align with their current values.

“In recent days, we learned that several of the songs Kate Smith performed in the 1930s include lyrics and sentiments that are incompatible with the values of our organization, and evoke painful and unacceptable themes,” the statement read.

“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.”

CBS Philadelphia reports that the statue was initially covered with a black drape before it was fully removed.

Still, Andron said the Flyers should consider Smith’s legacy before severing all ties for good.

“I think you need to go back and look back at your own history and what Aunt Katherine gave to the team,” she said.

The New York Yankees, meanwhile, have used the song for the past 18 years to signal the start of the seventh-inning stretch.

A representative for the team told the New York Daily News they’d “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.”

Two of Smith’s songs in particular, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and “Pickaninny Heaven,” have come under scrutiny in recent days.

The former includes offensive lines like, “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,” though some theorize it’s actually just satire, considering she recorded it with African-American artist Paul Robseon.

The latter, though, Smith sang by herself as an ode to “colored children” living in an orphanage. In the song, she urges the kids to dream about “great big watermelons” to get their minds off their troubles.

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