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Kathryn Elizabeth "Kate" Smith (May 1, 1907June 17, 1986) was an American singer, best known for her rendition of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America". Smith had a radio, TV and recording career spanning five decades, reaching its most-remembered zenith in the 1940s.

Her musical career began in earnest when she was discovered by Columbia Records vice president Ted Collins in 1930, who became her longtime partner and manager and who put her on the radio in 1931. She sang the controversial top twenty song of 1931, "That's Why Darkies Were Born". She starred in the 1932 movie Hello Everybody!, with co-stars Randolph Scott and Sally Blane, and in the 1943 wartime picture This is the Army she sang "God Bless America". Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1918.

Kate began making records in 1926; among 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), "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", the lyrics of which she helped write. She greeted audiences with "Hello, everybody!" and signed off with "Thanks for listenin'."

Radio

Kate's broad figure made her an occasional object of derision from fellow performers and managers; however, in her later career, some Philadelphia Flyers hockey fans (see Kate Smith statue below) lovingly said about her performances before games, "it ain't BEGUN 'til the fat lady sings!" Smith, who weighed 235 pounds at the age of 30 was unfazed, and titled her 1938 autobiography Living in a Great Big Way. She credited Ted Collins, who also gave her the break into the radio business, 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 in 1931 with her twice-a-week NBC series, Kate Smith Sings (which 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 Broadwaymarker production of the same name led to The Aldrich Family as separate hit series in its own right in 1940.

Smith continued on the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS, ABC, and NBC, doing both music and talk shows into the 1950s. 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, and Jell-O.

Smith's rotund figure wasn't the only satire target she inspired. Her standard, cheery radio sign-on was parodied by edgy comedian Henry Morgan when he launched his own show in 1942: "Good evening, anybody, here's Morgan," which became his trademark sign-on for the rest of his radio career. 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."

Significance in professional sports



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 awhile; 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 Spectrummarker in front of a capacity crowd of 17,007 excited fans before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974, in which the Flyers clinched 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 these Flyers home games: May 13, 1975, when the Flyers beat the New York Islanders 4-1 to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals (after which New York Islanders captain Ed Westfall infamously tried to jinx the Flyers "good luck charm" in Kate Smith by presenting her with a bouqet of roses) , 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 by Les Canadiens in that series.

The Flyers' record when "God Bless America" is played or sung in person stands at a remarkable 77 wins, 21 losses, and 4 ties. Ms. 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 Spectrummarker, in her memory. The Flyers will still show a video of her singing "God Bless America" in lieu of "The Star Spangled Banner" for good luck before important games, most recently before their victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 15, 2008 and again on April 19, 2009 before game 3 of the opening round of the playoffs versus the Pittsburgh Penguins as well as the loss in Game 4 on April 21, 2009. Often, the video of her performance is accompanied by Lauren Hart, daughter of the late Hockey Hall of Famemarker broadcaster, Gene Hart, longtime voice of the Flyers.

In 1982, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

Her rendition of "God Bless America" is also played during the 7th inning stretch of most New York Yankees home games.

Proceeds or money from her performances of "God Bless America" are donated to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

Death

Kate Smith, who never married, died of diabetes in 1986 in Raleigh, North Carolinamarker, several years after converting to Roman Catholicism. Her remains are interred in a private mausoleum at Saint Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placidmarker, Essex Countymarker, New Yorkmarker. In 1999, she was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Listen to



References

  1. Current Biography 1940, pp 745-7


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