Kate Smith

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Kathryn Elizabeth "Kate" Smith​

(American songstress: "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain"
and "God Bless America")

Born May 1, 1907​
Greenville, Augusta County

Virginia, USA​

Died June 17, 1986 (aged 79)
Raleigh, North Carolina

Resting place:
St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid, Essex County, New York

Political Party Republican
Spouse Never married

William Herman and Charlotte "Lottie" Yarnell Handy Smith​

Religion Roman Catholic

Kathryn Elizabeth Smith, known as Kate Smith (May 1, 1907 – June 17, 1986), was an American contralto singer known for her rendition of Irving Berlin's 1918 song, "God Bless America," which she performed for many years thereafter without accepting royalties.[1] Her career encompassed radio, television, and recordings over six decades. She was called the "First Lady of Radio" and "The Songbird of the South."​[2]


The youngest of three daughters, Smith was born in Greenville in Augusta County in western Virginia, to William Herman Smith (1880-1930), a distributor of newspapers and magazines, and the former Charlotte "Lottie" Yarnell Hanby (1885-1962).[2] She was reared in Washington, D.C.[3] Smith did not talk until she was four years of age, but by the time she was five she had begun singing at church socials. She never had a singing lesson; her father sang in the choir at a Roman Catholic church, and her mother played the piano at a Presbyterian church. As early as the age of eight, she began performing for military personnel at United States Army camps in the Washington area during World War I and in vaudeville theaters and on Broadway in New York City.[3]


In 1931, Ted Collins (1900-1964), a vice president of Columbia Records, became her full-time manager.[4] She attributed Collins with her overcoming self-consciousness about her weight, believed to have been as much as 225 pounds. Her first release with Collins was "Dream a Little Dream of Me." Her other songs were "River, Stay 'Way from My Door" (1931), "The Woodpecker Song" (1940), "The White Cliffs of Dover" (1941), "Rose O'Day" (1941), "Seems Like Old Times" (1946), and "Now Is the Hour" (1947). "Rose O'Day" was her first selection to sell a million records.​ Her theme song was "When the Moon Comes over the Mountain." Her career was in decline until "God Bless America" was released in 1938, and she was cast with Ronald Reagan in the 1943 film, This Is the Army.[5]

In 1938, Smith published a book, Living in a Great Big Way.[6]

Smith hosted and sang on several daytime radio and television programs. From 1950 to 1954, NBC aired a daily afternoon variety show, "The Kate Smith Hour," and then a prime time program on Wednesdays, "The Kate Smith Evening Hour." From January 25 to July 18, 1960, Smith hosted her final television series, The Kate Smith Show, on CBS on Monday evenings[7] Smith also did commercials for such companies as Studebaker, Diamond Crystal Salt, and General Foods' Jell-O.[8]

In 1969, while performing in Miami, Florida, with The Lettermen, Anita Bryant, and Jackie Gleason, she was commended by then President Richard M. Nixon.[3] That same year the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team retained Smith to sing "God Bless America."[9]

Smith, who never married, rented several apartments in Manhattan, had a home in Arlington, Virginia, and a summer home on a small island in Lake Placid, New York. After attending services at a Catholic parish for twenty-five years, Smith converted to Catholicism in 1965, a year after the passing of her manager. She lived modestly though her estate topped $35 million, making her one of the wealthiest singer for her time. While at the summer home in Lake Placid, she regularly attended mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church.​[3]

In 1976, she was the grand marshal for the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, and she sang "God Bless America" before the Rose Bowl in which the University of California, Los Angeles defeated Ohio State University.

Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor first established by President Harry Truman. At the ceremony, U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, a Smith admirer, fellow Republican, and resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, knelt by her wheelchair and held her hand. Reagan said that:

The voice of Kate Smith is known and loved by millions of Americans, young and old. In war and peace, it has been an inspiration. Those simple but deeply moving words, 'God bless America,' have taken on added meaning for all of us because of the way Kate Smith sang them. Thanks to her they have become a cherished part of all our lives, an undying reminder of the beauty, the courage and the heart of this great land of ours. In giving us a magnificent, selfless talent like Kate Smith, God has truly blessed America. patriot in every sense of the word. She thrilled us all with her stirring rendition of 'God Bless America' and sang with a passion which left few eyes dry. [1]

Smith's sister, Helena Mask Smith Steene (1904-1994),[10] called her "one of the greatest people I have ever known. She has always lived for her country."[1] The communist Daily Worker referred to Smith as "Kate the red-baiter" and "Kate the distorter of Communist policy."[3]

In 1999, Smith was inducted posthumously into the Radio Hall of Fame.[2]

Running afoul of political correctness

More than thirty years after her passing, Miss Smith was targeted by political correctness because two of her songs, "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and "Pickaninny Heaven," were declared "racist." From 2009 to 2019, the New York Yankees played her "God Bless America" in the seventh inning of each home game. The Yankees in 2019 removed Smith's song from its schedule.[11] The following day, the Philadelphia Flyers to which she had been loyal, also dumped Smith. "We have recently become aware that several songs performed by Kate Smith contain offensive lyrics that do not reflect our values as an organization," the Flyers told CNN.[9]

On April 21, 2019, a statue of Smith established by the Flyers was removed from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Her family denied that she was "racist" in any way. In 1945, Smith called for racial tolerance in an address on CBS Radio: "Race hatreds, social prejudices, religious bigotry, they are the diseases that eat away the fibers of peace." She declared tolerance essential to achieving peace.[12]


In her later years, she was impaired by diabetes. In 1976, she suffered brain damage while in a diabetic coma. In January 1986,she lost her right leg because the diabetes caused poor circulation. Five months later, she underwent a mastectomy. She died at the age of seventy-nine of respiratory arrest at Raleigh Community Hospital in the capital city of Raleigh, North Carolina.​[2]

Upon her death in Raleigh at the age of seventy-nine, President Reagan declared the conservative Smith "a patriot in every sense of the word. She thrilled us all with her stirring rendition of ‘God Bless America’ and sang with a passion which left few eyes dry.’’[13]

Miss Smith is interred at St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid more than a year after her passing. The delay was caused by a dispute over the size of her pink granite mausoleum. In the interim, her remains were stored in a vault at another cemetery. Hers was the first above-ground burial at St. Agnes Cemetery which overlooks Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains. She was not buried until November 14, 1987.[14]​​ ​


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Craig Webb (October 26, 1982). Kate Smith gets Medal of Freedom. UPI Archives. Retrieved on June 18, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Kate Smith. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on June 17, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Frank G. Prial (June 18, 1986). Kate Smith, All-American Singer, dies at 79. The New York Times. Retrieved on June 17, 2020.
  4. Ted Collins, Business Manager for Kate Smith 30 Years, Dies; Announcer and Producer, 64, Led Singer to Popularity on Radio, TV and Disks. The New York Times (May 28, 1964). Retrieved on June 18, 2020.
  5. Joseph Murrells (1978). The Book of Golden Discs, Vol. 2. Barrie and Jenkins (London, England through Amazon.com. Retrieved on June 18, 2020.
  6. New York: Blue Ribbon Books.
  7. Alex McNeil, "Total Television (New York City: Penguin Books, 1996), 4th ed. pp. 446–447.
  8. She's America's First Lady of the Airways. Graphic-design.ths-labs.com. Retrieved on une 18, 2020.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Doug Criss and Jill Martin. Sports teams dump Kate Smith's 'God Bless America' because of her racist songs. CNN. Retrieved on April 19, 2019.
  10. Helena Mask Smith Steene. Finadagrave.com. Retrieved on June 18, 2020.
  11. Stefan Bondy (April 18, 2019). Yankees dump Kate Smith's 'God Bless America' from rotation over singer's racist song. The New York Daily News.
  12. John Timpane (April 25, 2019). Kate Smith called for racial tolerance in this forgotten 1945 radio address. Philly.com. Retrieved on June 17, 2020.
  13. Stephanie Buck (March 21, 2017). The woman who gave us 'God Bless America' was too busy winning to care about being fat-shamed. timeline.com. Retrieved on June 18, 2020.
  14. Kate Smith burial Set 18 months after death. The Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator (November 13, 1987). Retrieved on June 18, 2020.

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