What to Know
- Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said he doesn't plan on removing Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" from the boardwalk playlist.
- The Flyers and Yankees removed Smith's rendition amid allegations that lyrics from her past songs were racist.
- The Flyers also removed a statue of Smith from outside Xfinity Live!
Wildwood mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. defended Kate Smith and said he would not remove the singer's rendition of "God Bless America," from the Jersey Shore town's boardwalk playlist after the Flyers removed her statue amid allegations that some of her past lyrics were racist.
“We have no intentions of removing it,” Troiano said during an appearance on the Dom Giordano Program on 1210 WPHT Monday.
“We understand history. 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 her outside the Spectrum in 1987. 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 Thursday 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 Smith’s 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 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.
Troiano also brought up offensive lyrics in hip hop music while defending Smith.
“Should all these rap songs be banned? All the conversations about women, kill the police, the N word dropped all over the place,” he said. “Where’s the outrage to that?”
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.
The debate over Smith is the latest example of an ongoing culture war over controversial historical icons. Last year, a statue of Philadelphia former mayor and police chief Frank Rizzo ignited protests between people critical of his strong-arm tactics and residents who wanted to honor his memory.
Last month, Dallas City Council voted to remove a Confederate monument from a local cemetery.
That vote came just weeks after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam refused mounting calls for his resignation after a photo surfaced on his yearbook page showing people in blackface and a KKK robe, stressing that he "truly" doesn't believe he was in the picture.