Anyone who is old enough to remember World War II almost certainly will remember the firm contralto voice, and the unshakable assurance that it gave. "God Bless America," sang Kate Smith, and when she sang it seemed not so much that she was asking for help as ordaining an event. That meant a lot during the war. It especially meant a lot in its bleak early months, when the news was so bad and the future looked so uncertain. There is no way to measure the effect that a song can have on the spirits of a people. But those who remember the war will remember how that one confident voice singing that one rousing song helped bring hope in an anxious time.
Irving Berlin did not write his patriotic hymn with Kate Smith in mind, but never were a singer and a song better met. It became a part of her repertoire in the late 1930s. With the war it became her particular anthem. "God Bless America" rang out from her radio broadcasts, from the rallies where she raised enormous amounts of money for the war effort, from a recording that sold millions of copies.
Kate Smith, who died this week at age 79, will and deserves to be remembered for the warmth and the rich talent that for decades made her a welcome presence in homes across America. Most of all, and deservedly, she will be remembered for the largely forgotten song that she first took as her own, and then made a part of the national life.