About Kathryn Elizabeth Smith
Kathryn Elizabeth "Kate" Smith (May 1, 1907 – June 17, 1986) was an American singer, an alto, best known for her rendition of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America". Smith had a radio, television, and recording career spanning five decades, which reached its pinnacle in the 1940s.
Smith was born in Greenville, Virginia. Her professional musical career began in 1930, when she was discovered by Columbia Records vice president Ted Collins, who became her longtime manager in 50-50 partnership. Collins put her on radio in 1931. She sang the controversial top twenty song of 1931, "That's Why Darkies Were Born". She appeared in 1932 in Hello Everybody!, with co-stars Randolph Scott and Sally Blane, and in the 1943 wartime movie This is the Army she sang "God Bless America".
Smith began recording in 1926; in 1931, she sang "Dream a Little Dream of Me." Her biggest hits were "River, Stay 'Way From My Door" (1931), "The Woodpecker Song" (1940), "The White Cliffs of Dover" (1941), "Rose O'Day" (1941), "Last Time I saw Paris" (1942), "I Don't Want to Walk Without You" (1942), "There Goes That Song Again" (1944), "Seems Like Old Times" (1946), and "Now Is the Hour" (1947). Her theme song was "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain"; she had helped write the lyrics. Smith greeted her audience with "Hello, everybody!" and signed off with "Thanks for listenin'."
Her feature film Hello, Everybody (1932) was released shortly before Mae West's She Done Him Wrong (1933). At this time, Paramount Pictures was in deep financial trouble. Paramount initially promoted Smith's film and it proved to be disappointing at the box office. On the other hand, West's first starring film was a huge success. This situation added to the ridicule of Smith's size and appearance, but she was featured in a number of Paramount shorts without issue. She continued to be successful on radio throughout the 1930s into the 1940s.
Smith's plump figure made her an occasional object of derision; however, late in her career, Philadelphia Flyers hockey fans (see Kate Smith statue below) lovingly said about her appearance before games, "It ain't BEGUN 'til the fat lady sings!" Smith was 5'10" tall and weighed 235 pounds at the age of 30. She titled her 1938 autobiography Living in a Great Big Way. She credited Ted Collins with helping her overcome her self-consciousness, writing, "Ted Collins was the first man who regarded me as a singer, and didn't even seem to notice that I was a big girl." She noted, "I'm big, and I sing, and boy, when I sing, I sing all over!"
Smith was a major star of radio, usually backed by Jack Miller's Orchestra. She began with her twice-a-week NBC series, Kate Smith Sings (quickly expanded to six shows a week), followed by a series of shows for CBS: Kate Smith and Her Swanee Music (1931–33), sponsored by La Palina Cigars; The Kate Smith Matinee (1934–35); The Kate Smith New Star Revue (1934–35); Kate Smith's Coffee Time (1935–36), sponsored by A&P; and The Kate Smith A&P Bandwagon (1936–37).
The Kate Smith Hour was a leading radio variety show, offering comedy, music and drama with appearances by top personalities of films and theater for eight years (1937–45). The show's resident comics, Abbott and Costello and Henny Youngman, introduced their comedy to a nationwide radio audience aboard her show, while a series of sketches based on the Broadway production of the same name led to The Aldrich Family as separate hit series in its own right in 1940.
Smith, performed in The Kate Smith Show from 1950 through 1954, hosting until 1953 in the late afternoon hour of 4:00 pm ET. At that hour, she had a following of many children.
Smith continued on the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS, ABC, and NBC, doing both music and talk shows into the 1950s. From January 25 to July 18, 1960, she hosted The Kate Smith Show, a variety program on the CBS Television Monday evening schedule.
Because of her popularity, Smith's face was a common sight in print advertisements of the day. Over the years, she acted as a commercial spokesman for numerous companies such as Studebaker, Pullman, Diamond Crystal Salt, and Jell-O.
Smith's figure wasn't the only satire target. Her cheery radio sign-on was parodied by comedian Henry Morgan when he launched his own show in 1942: "Good evening, anybody, here's Morgan," which became his sign-on. Morgan would recall in his memoir, Here's Morgan, that Smith's sign-on struck him as condescending: "I, on the other hand, was grateful if anybody was listening."
On October 8, 1987, a Kate Smith statue was dedicated outside the Spectrum in Philadelphia before the Flyers game vs. the Montreal Canadiens.
When the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team played her rendition of "God Bless America" before their game on December 11, 1969, an unusual part of her career began. The team began to play the song before home games every once in a while; the perception was that the team was more successful on these occasions, so the tradition grew.
At the Flyers' home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 11, 1973, she made a surprise appearance to perform the song in person and received a tremendous reception. The Flyers won that game by a 2-0 score.
She again performed the song at the Spectrum in front of a capacity crowd of 17,007 fans before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974 against the Boston Bruins. Boston's forward, Phil Esposito, infamously tried to jinx the Flyers' "good luck charm" by presenting her with a bouquet of roses after her performance. The Flyers won their first of two back-to-back Stanley Cups, winning that playoff series against the Boston Bruins 4 games to 2, with Bernie Parent shutting the Bruins out 1-0 in that game.
Smith also performed live at Flyers home games on May 13, 1975, when the Flyers beat the New York Islanders 4-1 to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals., and on May 16, 1976, before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, when the Flyers lost to the Montreal Canadiens 5-3 and were swept in that series.
The Flyers' record when "God Bless America" is played or sung in person stands at a remarkable 94 wins, 26 losses, and 4 ties as of April 26, 2011. Smith and her song remain a special part of Flyers' history. In 1987, the team erected a statue of Smith outside their arena at the time, the Spectrum, in her memory. The Flyers still show a video of her singing "God Bless America" in lieu of "The Star Spangled Banner" for good luck before important games. The video of her performance is now accompanied by Lauren Hart, daughter of the late Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster, Gene Hart, longtime voice of the Flyers, and anthem singer for the Flyers. Before games whenever God Bless America is performed, Lou Nolan, the PA announcer for the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center would say: "Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, we ask that you please rise and remove your hats and salute to our flags and welcome the number 1 ranked anthemist in the NHL, Lauren Hart, as she sings (if the visiting team is from Canada, O Canada (or Canadian national anthem) followed by) God Bless America, accompanied by the great Kate Smith.
On May 19, 2010, the 36th anniversary of the date that she sang "God Bless America" before the Flyers clinched their first championship, the U.S. Postal Service held a ceremony attended by players from that championship team announcing the release of the Kate Smith US postage stamp in front of her statue at the Spectrum.
Kate Smith was the Grand Marshal for the 1976 Rose Bowl parade and game. She sang "God Bless America" before the Ohio State-UCLA game at the Rose Bowl, which UCLA won 23-10.
Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" is also played during the 7th-inning stretch of New York Yankees home games. Proceeds or money from her performances of "God Bless America" are donated to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
On October 26, 1982, Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom America's highest civilian honor, by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. U. S. Senator Jesse Helms, a Smith admirer, joined the ceremony in Raleigh, North Carolina. In bestowing the honor, Reagan said:
The voice of Kate Smith is known and loved by millions of Americans, young and old. In war and peace, it has been an inspiration. Those simple but deeply moving words, 'God bless America,' have taken on added meaning for all of us because of the way Kate Smith sang them. Thanks to her they have become a cherished part of all our lives, an undying reminder of the beauty, the courage and the heart of this great land of ours. In giving us a magnificent, selfless talent like Kate Smith, God has truly blessed America.
Kate Smith, who never married, rented various apartments in New York City during her long career. She had a home in Arlington, Va., and kept a summer home on a small island in Lake Placid, New York. She led an active social life and loved having house guests both in town and at Lake Placid.
Those who worked with her in show business also knew her as an executive who knew better than anyone else how to stage her shows, how to present herself at her best, and how to keep everything at the highest professional level. New Yorkers privileged to sit in on her radio broadcasts saw her supervising every aspect of her programs with great knowledge and utmost taste. She was also known for being ahead of the trends. Even on her later tours she was presenting all her hit songs in a long medley at the end and devoting her repertoire to the Beatles, Jimmy Webb, Michel Legrand, and other contemporary composers. In the later days "God Bless America" was sung in a medley with "Sing" from "Sesame Street." In her later years also, her usually conservative dark gowns were replaced by colorful sequined creations worthy of the The Supremes. Along with Peggy Lee she was one of the few long-careered singers to wade into rock music fearlessly and effectively and that placed her on T.V. variety shows including those of Sonny and Cher, Tony Orlando and Dawn and Donny and Marie Osmond. She also, against all odds, enjoyed some of her greatest recording success in her later years with a series of albums on RCA Victor. She often said she wasn't much one for nostalgia and also said she was always willing to try something new, at least once. She was also a cook of considerable note and her name was on a series of best-selling cookbooks which today are collectors' items.
Smith was also a staunch conservative Republican who opposed unions, communism, socialism, the Equal Rights Amendment, homosexuality, abortion, affirmative action, and indecency. In 1969, following the Miami incident when Jim Morrison of The Doors, was arrested for indecent exposure, Smith, along with the Lettermen, Jackie Gleason, and Anita Bryant, gave a performance of artists for decency, in Miami, which was commended and hailed by President Richard Nixon. (Source: "Rock Almanac" and "This Date in Rock Music".)
Kate Smith was impaired by diabetes and her weight problem during her last years, and eventually used a wheelchair. She died in Raleigh on June 17, 1986 at the age of 79. For over a year following her death, her remains were stored in a vault at Saint Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid, while officials of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church and the singer's executors disputed the meaning of a clause in her will.
The clause expressed Miss Smith's desire to be interred in the St. Agnes graveyard in a hermetically sealed bronze casket in a mausoleum sufficient to contain my remains alone. This request was reportedly made because Kate Smith had an obsessive fear of being underground. The church, however, despite earlier requests by other parishioners, had previously forbidden any above-ground crypts and large headstones in the small 11-acre (45,000 m2) cemetery. A parish committee convened to resolve the dispute was willing to make an exception for the singer, with an above-ground sarcophagus-style tomb. In addition to requesting burial at St. Agnes, Smith left $25,000 to the church—and half of the residuals of her estate. It is because the church stood to gain from the disposition of the will, some observers said, that it first opposed what the lawyer for the church, Fred Dennin, called the executors' rather grandiose plans for an 11-foot (3.4 m)-high, $90,000 mausoleum.
Kate Smith was inducted posthumously into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1999. She was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
In 2010 a U.S. commemorative stamp was issued featuring stamp art duplicating artwork created for the cover of a CD titled, “Kate Smith: The Songbird of the South.” The artwork was based on a photograph of Smith taken in the 1960s.
On July 21, 2011, Kate Smith's version of "God Bless America" was played as NASA's final wake up call for the space shuttle Atlantis, ending the 30-year shuttle program