‘God Bless America’

Yankees and Flyers Will Stop Playing Kate Smith After Discovering Racist Songs

[i]"Now both teams have announced they will stop playing Smith’s version of 'God Bless America' after discovering that she sang songs with racist lyrics in the 1930s. The Flyers will also cover a statue of Smith that has been in front of their arena since 1987."

"Like many white singers of her era, Smith sang some songs that at best are dated and insensitive and at worst are downright racist."

"In 'Pickaninny Heaven,' Smith sings of a place where 'great big watermelons roll around and get in your way.' 'Pickaninny' is a demeaning term for a black child. In the 1933 film 'Hello Everybody,' Smith sings the song to a group of black orphans listening on the radio.

'That’s Why Darkies Were Born' begins: '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.'

The lyrics also include: 'Sing, sing, sing when you’re weary and sing when you’re blue/ Sing, sing, that’s what you taught all the white folks to do.'

The song was also recorded by the black singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson, although 'one has to think that Robeson’s take on the lyrics was decidedly ironic,' wrote Steven Carl Tracy in 'Hot Music, Ragmentation and the Bluing of American Literature.'"[/i]

Good food for thought. It is great we have progressed to acknowledge that past songs were racist, Is it possible that we can also gracefully acknowledge that Kate Smith had a beautiful voice?

Too often, I've had to confront this conundrum-- the problem of admiring the art, without always admiring the artist. (And of course the difficulty of judging a person from one era by the mores or a later era.)

Well, put. I think another twist within this conundrum is that if we cannot enjoy and appreciate art if we don't admire the artist, then there might be little art to appreciate, for most artists, and people, have said or done something that is the opposite of admirable. How's that go: " he/her who is without sin". And the almost self-evident perception that we are all children, or prisoners, of our historical period, opens another can of worms, for it can lead to a moral relativism where there are no moral judgments that are true universally and are not restricted to a specific time in history. Can we really say that atrocities committed in the past by people who were influenced by the zeitgeist of their times are beyond judgment today because historical forces made them do or say what they did? The philosopher, Schopenhauer, who advocated love and compassion, who pushed a seamstress down a stairwell, and who is considered a very influential thinker, though he is also considered a misanthrope and misogynist, is still read and appreciated today. Should he be, along with many other esteemed creators? Perhaps admiration is a matter of degree rather than an absolute judgment.