What to Know
- Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said he would be interested in bringing the statue of Kate Smith to Wildwood, New Jersey, if it became available.
- The Flyers removed Smith's statue from outside Xfinity Live! amid allegations that lyrics from her past songs were racist.
- Troiano also defended Smith during a radio interview Monday.
Amid controversy surrounding her past lyrics, Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said he would be interested in bringing the statue of Kate Smith to Wildwood, New Jersey, if it became available.
Troiano said he had "no intentions of removing" Smith's version of the song from the town's boardwalk playlist after the Flyers removed her statue due to allegations that some of her past lyrics were racist.
"Her version is the best version," he said. "And her version, all the money went to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia
Troiano told NBC10 Smith's version of "God Bless America" is played on the Wildwood boardwalk every morning at 11 a.m. and that people clapped when it was played Monday. He said veterans in his town want both the song and the statue. American Legion Post 184 also created a petition to bring the statue to Wildwood.
“We understand history," Troiano said during an appearance on the Dom Giordano Program on 1210 WPHT. "But the world’s gotten so politically correct and so afraid that they’re gonna offend somebody. The song is greater than anything so you know what, it’ll continue to play in Wildwood.”
Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” had been part of Flyers lore since 1969 when a team executive ordered her version to be played instead of “The Star Spangled Banner.” That led to her performing the song several times before games in the 1970s, including the Flyers’ Stanley Cup-clinching Game 6 against Boston in 1974.
A year after her 1986 death, the Flyers erected a statue of Smith outside the Spectrum. It was moved to the Xfinity Live! Complex in 2011.
The New York Yankees also used her rendition of the song during their seventh-inning stretch. That changed last week however, when the team suspended its use and launched an investigation into two songs she recorded in the 1930s, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” and “Pickaninny Heaven.”
Soon after, the Flyers followed suit, first covering her statue outside their arena and then removing it altogether Sunday.
“The NHL principle ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ is at the heart of everything the Flyers stand for,” Flyers President Paul Holmgren said in a statement. “As a result, we cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today.”
The Flyers’ decision to remove the statue sparked outrage from Smith’s surviving family members as well as fans of the singer. Troiano also defended Smith and spoke out against the decision during his appearance on 1210 WPHT.
“I’m a small town mayor and I look at what’s happening to the world,” Troiano said. “And it’s amazing how everyone wants to rewrite history. Nobody wants to allow history to be an educator and teacher to help us improve in the future. We’re gonna change history. What we don’t like, we’re gonna just erase. And it’s whoever’s offended at that time is the one that’s pushing the issues.”
“That’s Why Darkies Were Born” originated in the 1931 Broadway revue “George White’s Scandals,” and was considered by some to be a satire of racism. It includes the lyrics, "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."
Smith recorded a version of the song. Paul Robeson, an African American singer, actor and civil rights activist, recorded a version as well.
Troiano referred to Smith’s version of the song as “satirical.”
“This was a Broadway play. The song was written by an African American gentleman,” he said. “These guys, we look at them, and we view them as great people. And it’s not what color you are, who you are, what you look like. It’s the craziness.”
Records show “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” was written by Ray Henderson, a white American, and Lew Brown, who was Ukrainian. George White, the producer of “George White’s Scandals,” was also a white American.
Smith’s song “Pickaninny Heaven,” which was featured in the 1933 film “Hello Everybody,” also features the singer describing an afterlife for African American children steeped in racist stereotypes.
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.
On Wednesday, Troiano addressed those who questioned why anyone would want to support someone who sang racist lyrics.
"I hear you," Troiano said. "And I would look at the fact that it was 88 years ago and times are different."
He also questioned what he believed to be a lack of outrage for hip hop artists who use racial slurs in their music.
"Why is it okay for certain music to be throwing the N word around like it's nothing, and then putting them on pedestals?" he asked.
Smith's statue currently sits in a warehouse in Chester, Pennsylvania. Troiano hopes it will soon find a new home in Wildwood.