For 18 years, the New York Yankees have played Kate Smith’s 1939 recording of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch at home games. They began the tradition after 9/11, and kept it going until this season, when they swapped it out for a different recording of the song. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, the team made the switch after it learned that Smith had recorded a few shamelessly racist tracks from that era.
Smith, a singer whose career took off in the ‘30s and ‘40s, made Irving Berlin’s song famous when she debuted it on Armistice Day in 1938. The First Lady of Radio’s rendition supposedly inspired hundreds of millions of dollars spent on World War II bonds. She performed it enough times for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s that the team built a statue of Smith outside its arena to thank her.
However, in addition to “God Bless America,” Smith also recorded a little ditty called “Pickaninny Heaven,” which is as bad as it sounds:
Smith [...] recorded the offensive jingle, “Pickaninny Heaven,” which she directed at “colored children” who should fantasize about an amazing place with “great big watermelons,” among other treats. She shot a video for that song that takes place in an orphanage for black children, and much of the imagery is startlingly racist. She also recorded, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” which included the lyrics, “Someone had to pick the cotton. … That’s why darkies were born.”
Take a gander at this live performance:
The Yankees said they decided to pull the song after learning about Smith’s past, saying they opted to err “on the side of sensitivity.”
“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 club spokesman said. “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.”
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Anyway, “God Bless America” sucks in general and should be replaced with a better song.