Monday, November 18, 2013

The story behind Kate Smith and "God Bless America".

A healthy dose of patriotism goes a long way to uplifting our spirits in trying times such as these. There is nothing more patriotic or uplifting than watching and listening to the incomparable Kate Smith singing Irving Berlin's God Bless America. A little background history to introduce this is in order. The story begins just before World War II.

The time was 1938. America was still in a terrible economic depression. Adolf Hitler was taking over Europe and Americans were afraid we'd have to go to war. It was a time of hardship and worry for most Americans.

This was the era just before TV, when radio shows were HUGE, and American families sat around their radios in the evenings, listening to their favorite entertainers, and no entertainer of that era was bigger than Kate Smith.

Kate was also large; plus size, as we now say, and the popular phrase still used today is in deference to her, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings". Kate Smith might not have made it big in the age of TV, but with her voice coming over the radio, she was the biggest star of her time.

Kate was also patriotic. It hurt her to see Americans so depressed and afraid of what the next day would bring . She had hope for America, and faith in her fellow Americans. She wanted to do something to cheer them up, so she went to the famous American song-writer, Irving Berlin (who also wrote "White Christmas") and asked him to write a song that would make Americans feel good again about their country. When she described what she was looking for, he said he had just the song for her. He went to his files and found a song that he had written, but never published, 20 years before - way back in 1918.

Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1918 while serving in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, but decided that it did not fit in a revue called Yip Yip Yaphank, so he set it aside. He gave it to Kate Smith and she worked on it with her studio orchestra. She and Irving Berlin were not sure how the song would be received by the public, but both agreed they would not take any profits from God Bless America. Any profits would go to the Boy Scouts of America. Over the years, the Boy Scouts have received millions of dollars in royalties from this song.

This video starts out with Kate Smith coming into the radio studio with the orchestra and an audience. She introduces the new song for the very first time, and starts singing. After the first couple verses, with her voice in the background still singing, scenes are shown from the 1940 movie, "You're In The Army Now." At the 4:20 mark of the video you see a young actor in the movie, sitting in an office, reading a paper; it's Ronald Reagan. (and a few other old old movie stars).

To this day, God Bless America stirs our patriotic feelings and pride in our country. Back in 1940, when Kate Smith went looking for a song to raise the spirits of her fellow Americans, I doubt whether she realized just how successful the results would be for her fellow Americans during those years of hardship and worry..... and for many generations of Americans to follow. Now that you know the story of the song, I hope you'll enjoy it and treasure it even more.

Many people don't know there's a lead in to the song since it usually starts with "God Bless America....." So here's the entire song as originally sung. "God Bless America" went on to become Kate Smith's signature song.

This text has been compiled from various sources including the following from Wikipedia: In 1943, Smith's rendition was featured in the patriotic musical This is the Army along with other Berlin songs. The manuscripts in the Library of Congress reveal the evolution of the song from victory to peace. Berlin gave the royalties of the song to the God Bless America Fund for redistribution to the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA. Smith performed the song on her two NBC television series in the 1950s and in her short-lived The Kate Smith Show on CBS, which aired on CBS from January 25 to July 18, 1960. 
During the 1960s, the song was increasingly used by Christian conservatives in the US to signal their opposition to secular liberalism and to silence dissenters who were speaking in favor of communism or in opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Later, from December 11, 1969, through the early 1970s, the playing of Smith singing the song before many home games of the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers brought it renewed popularity as well as a reputation for being a "good luck charm" to the Flyers long before it became a staple of nationwide sporting events. The Flyers even brought Smith in to perform live before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974, and the Flyers won the Cup that day. Kate Smith passed away on June 17, 1986 at the age of 79, but her memory lasts forever.


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