Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1: Kate Smith - Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" - was born on this date in 1907...

... she died on June 17, 1986.  

Did you know...

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 a while; 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 Spectrum in front of a capacity crowd of 17,007 fans before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974 against the Boston Bruins. Boston's captain, Phil Esposito, infamously tried to jinx the Flyers' "good luck charm" by presenting her with a bouquet of roses after her performance. The Flyers won 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.

On October 8, 1987, the Kate Smith statue was dedicated outside the Spectrum in Philadelphia before the Flyers game vs. the Montreal Canadiens.

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

Smith was 5'10" tall and weighed 235 pounds at the age of 30. She titled her 1938 autobiography Living in a Great Big Way. She credited Ted Collins 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 began recording in 1926; in 1931, she sang "Dream a Little Dream of Me." 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"; she had helped write the lyrics. Smith greeted her audience with "Hello, everybody!" and signed off with "Thanks for listenin'."

Her 1932 film, Hello, Everybody was released around the same time as Mae West's She Done Him Wrong at a time when Paramount was in deep financial trouble. Paramount initially promoted Smith's film and it proved to be disappointing at the box office. On the other hand, West's first starring film was a huge success. This situation added to the ridicule of Smith's size and appearance, but she was featured in a number of Paramount shorts without issue. She continued to be successful on radio throughout the 1930s into the 1940s.

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On October 26, 1982, Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom America's highest civilian honor.

Smith, who never married, was crippled by diabetes and her weight problem in her last years and was confined to a wheelchair. She died in Raleigh on June 17, 1986 at the age of 79.


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