WILDWOOD, N.J. (AP) — The mayor of a New Jersey shore town says they keep playing Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” on its boardwalk despite allegations of racism against the singer.
Wildwood has traditionally started each day by playing the song.
“It’s an Irving Berlin patriotic song that has nothing to do with anything but America,” Mayor Ernie Troiano said. “We have no intention of removing it, and it’s not a statement that we don’t understand what’s going on or we’re ignorant to the history, we understand the history.”
Troiano said he plans to speak with his cabinet to make sure they all feel as passionate about the issue as he does.
The mayor’s comments come as some sports teams, including the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers, have stopped playing Smith’s version of the song amid conflicting claims about several of her tunes, including her 1939 hit “That’s Why the Darkies Were Born.”
The tune originated in the 1931 Broadway revue “George White’s Scandals,” and was considered satire at the time. Smith’s likeness also appears in a 1939 ad that heavily uses the mammy caricature, one of the most well-known racist depictions of black women.
Besides taking out Smith’s “God Bless America” recording from their library, the Flyers have removed a bronze statue of her that had long stood outside their arena. The statue was removed Sunday, and its whereabouts have not been disclosed.
Smith’s connection with the Flyers started in 1969 when a team executive ordered her version of “God Bless America” to be played instead of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That led to her performing the song several times before games in the 1970s. A year after her 1986 death, the team erected the statue.