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Flyers remove Kate Smith statue because of racially insensitive songs

Flyers remove Kate Smith statue because of racially insensitive songs
Kate Smith sings "God Bless America" before a Stanley Cup playoff game between the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers on May 13, 1975. (Associated Press)

The Philadelphia Flyers have removed a statue of Kate Smith from outside its arena and will no longer play the singer’s classic version of “God Bless America” before games after learning that she performed racially insensitive songs nearly 90 years ago.

Smith’s niece, Suzy Andron, said she was “appalled” that only the base of her aunt’s statue remained outside the Wells Fargo Center.

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“Aunt Katherine was probably one of the kindest people I’ve ever met,” Andron told CBS Philly. “She was certainly anything but a prejudiced person. She loved everybody.”

The Flyers said Sunday in a statement that the songs “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” recorded by Smith in the 1930s, “include lyrics and sentiments that are incompatible with the values of our organization, and evoke painful and unacceptable themes.”

Using a derogatory term for African American children, the first song describes a “place where the good little pickaninnies go” with “great big watermelons” and “luscious pork chop bushes growin’ right outside your doorway.”

The second song’s lyrics include:

Someone had to pick the cotton,

Someone had to pick the corn,

Someone had to slave and be able to sing,

That’s why darkies were born.

Defenders of that song describe it as a satire and point out that Paul Robeson, an African American singer, also recorded it. Smith, who also once endorsed a product called “Kate Smith’s Mammy Doll,” did not write either song.

The Flyers started playing Smith’s version of “God Bless America” instead of the national anthem in 1969, and she performed the song before several games during the next two decades, including the team’s Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the Boston Bruins in 1974. She died in 1986, and the Flyers erected a statue in her honor the following year.

The New York Yankees suspended the use of the song after Smith’s controversial recordings were unearthed last week. The Flyers soon did the same and also placed a cover over Smith’s statue while the matter was investigated.

Now all traces of Smith at the arena apparently are gone for good.

“We cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today,” Flyers president Paul Homgren said in the team’s statement.

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