‘…Stand beside her, and guide her through the night with a light from above…’

4 July 2010

CAJ note: In the days and weeks after the terror attacks of 9/11/2001 “God Bless America” was revived in the United States and is now played during the 7th inning stretch of Major League baseball games and included in concerts honoring our military. We realize that many of our readers are too young to know the history of this anthem, written by a Jewish immigrant during World War I and introduced to Americans by a beloved entertainer in the year leading up to World War II.

“Kate [Smith] asked Irving Berlin himself for a patriotic song for her radio show, and he gave her “God Bless America” which [he’d originally composed] in 1918. Berlin changed some of the lyrics from his original composition, replacing “from the green fields of Virginia / to the gold fields out in Nome” with “From the mountains to the prairies / To the oceans white with foam.” After some other minor adjustments, he gave the song to Kate. She first performed it on Armistice Day, November 11, 1938. [Mr. Berlin never required Miss Smith to pay for the song, and she donated proceeds from her performances of “God Bless America” to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America].

“Smith performed “God Bless America” every week on her radio show from 1938 [to 1945], selling nearly 400,000 pages of sheet music.” — IMDB.com

In the first moments of this video below (which we think is from the Warner Brothers movie This Is the Army (1943) ), you hear the announcer referring to the 21st anniversary of the Armistice of World War I (11 November 1918) and scenes of the devastation of war. What he is, in fact, describing is the first months of World War II, which broke out in Europe in September 1939.

Kate Smith became an unlikely “good luck” charm in the later years of her life.

“…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 awhile; 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 excited fans before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974, in which the Flyers clinched 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.

“Smith also performed live at these Flyers home games: May 13, 1975, when the Flyers beat the New York Islanders 4-1 to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals (New York Islanders captain Ed Westfall infamously tried to jinx the Flyers “good luck charm” in Kate Smith by skating up and presenting her with a bouquet of roses after her performance), and on May 16, 1976 , before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, when the Flyers lost to the Montreal Canadiens 5-3 and were swept in that series.

“The Flyers’ record when “God Bless America” is played or sung in person stands at a remarkable 87 wins, 23 losses, and 4 ties as of June 9, 2010. Smith and her song remain a special part of Flyers’ history. In 1987, the team erected a statue of Smith outside their arena at the time, the Spectrum, in her memory. The Flyers still show a video of her singing “God Bless America” in lieu of “The Star Spangled Banner” for good luck before important games…

“On October 26, 1982, Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom America’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald Reagan [who also appeared in “The is the Army”].” –Ask.com

Miss Kate Smith died on 17 June, 1986.

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