PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Philadelphia Flyers will stop using Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” after learning about the singer’s alleged history of racism. They also covered up the statue honoring her outside the sports complex with a black drape as they decide what’s next.
Smith, an accomplished singer, actress and talk show host, was the voice of the World War II generation. Her rendition of “God Bless America” has inspired patriotism since the Great Depression. Later, she became the star performer before the great Flyers’ teams of the 1970s.
“Her performing for a fan is pretty much indescribable, unless you were there to experience it,” Ken Giusini, a longtime Flyers fan from South Philadelphia, said. “The crowd rose to their feet, they praised her and clapped for her whether she was there or not.”
Smith’s history with the Flyers lasted long after her 1986 death. Before playoff games, the Flyers have longed paired video of Smith performing “God Bless America” with Lauren Hart for a duet. The team, however, has not done that since the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In 1987, one year after Smith died, the Flyers erected the statue honoring Smith outside the Spectrum. That’s now standing, covered, outside Xfinity Live! and the Wells Fargo Center.
“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.”
Smith’s legacy is now under the microscope with new attention of racist songs and advertisements that was part of her career.
The Flyers and New York Yankees say they will no longer play Smith’s recordings as they research and discuss her history. The Yankees stopped using her rendition during the seventh inning this year, first reported by the New York Daily News.
According to the report, Smith allegedly has a history of singing songs with racist language, such as “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.”
“You’re going to lose a lot of season ticket holders,” Flyers fan Merrick Centola said.
While some fans and others are quick to condemn the Flyers’ actions, it’s not unlike the trend in recent years to remove statues of historical figures upon further reflection of racially controversial attitudes and behaviors.
“I think that’s a good first step to remove and recover these statues because they are part of our racial history,” Rutgers University–Camden director of Africana studies Keith Green said, “and simply leave them up there suggests that the history is OK and it’s fine.”
One Flyers fan said Friday that there are no winners. Many are curious to find out what the long-term plans are for the statue.