Kathryn Elizabeth "Kate" Smith (May 1, 1907 – June 17, 1986) was an American singer, an alto, best known for her rendition of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America". Smith had a radio, television, and recording career spanning five decades, which reached its pinnacle in the 1940s.
Smith was born in Greenville, Virginia. Smith began recording in 1926. Her professional musical career began in 1930, when she was discovered byColumbia Records vice president Ted Collins, who became her longtime manager in 50-50 partnership. She later credited 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!"
Collins put her on radio in 1931. That year, she performed the controversial top twenty song of 1931, "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and "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), "Last Time I saw Paris" (1942), "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'."
In 1932, Smith appeared in 1932 in Hello Everybody!, with co-stars Randolph Scott and Sally Blane, and in the 1943 wartime movie This is the Armyshe sang "God Bless America".
Smith was a major star of radio, usually backed by Jack Miller's Orchestra. She began with her twice-a-week NBC series, Kate Smith Sings (quickly expanded to six shows a week), followed by a series of shows for CBS: Kate Smith and Her Swanee Music (1931–33), sponsored by La Palina Cigars; The Kate Smith Matinee (1934–35); The Kate Smith New Star Revue (1934–35); Kate Smith's Coffee Time (1935–36), sponsored by A&P; and The Kate Smith A&P Bandwagon (1936–37).
The Kate Smith Hour was a leading radio variety show, offering comedy, music and drama with appearances by top personalities of films and theater for eight years (1937–45). The show's resident comics, Abbott and Costello and Henny Youngman, introduced their comedy to a nationwide radio audience aboard her show, while a series of sketches based on the Broadway production of the same name led to The Aldrich Family as separate hit series in its own right in 1940.
On television Smith performed in The Kate Smith Show from 1950 through 1954, hosting until 1953 in the late afternoon hour of 4:00 pm ET. Smith continued on the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS, ABC, and NBC, doing both music and talk shows into the 1950s. From January 25 to July 18, 1960, she hosted The Kate Smith Show, a variety program on the CBS Television Monday evening schedule.
Because of her popularity, Smith's face was a common sight in print advertisements of the day. Over the years, she acted as a commercial spokesman for numerous companies such as Studebaker, Pullman, Diamond Crystal Salt, and Jell-O.
Smith's figure wasn't the only satire target. Her cheery radio sign-on was parodied by comedian Henry Morgan when he launched his own show in 1942: "Good evening, anybody, here's Morgan," which became his sign-on. Morgan would recall in his memoir, Here's Morgan, that Smith's sign-on struck him as condescending: "I, on the other hand, was grateful if anybody was listening."
On October 8, 1987, a Kate Smith statue was dedicated outside theSpectrum in Philadelphiabefore the Flyers game vs. the Montreal Canadiens.
When the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team played Smith's 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 forward, 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.
Smith also performed live at Flyers home games on May 13, 1975, when the Flyers beat the New York Islanders 4-1 to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals., 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 94 wins, 26 losses, and 4 ties as of April 26, 2011. 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. The video of her performance is now accompanied by Lauren Hart, daughter of the late Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster, Gene Hart, longtime voice of the Flyers, and anthem singer for the Flyers. Before games whenever God Bless America is performed, Lou Nolan, the PA announcer for the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center would say: "Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, we ask that you please rise and remove your hats and salute to our flags and welcome the number 1 ranked anthemist in the NHL, Lauren Hart, as she sings (if the visiting team is from Canada, O Canada (or Canadian national anthem) followed by) God Bless America, accompanied by the great Kate Smith."
Smith's plump figure made her an occasional object of derision; however, late in her career, Philadelphia Flyers hockey fans said about her appearance before games, "It ain't BEGUN 'til the fat lady sings!" 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.
Kate Smith was the Grand Marshal for the 1976 Rose Bowl parade and game. She sang "God Bless America" before the Ohio State-UCLA game at the Rose Bowl, which UCLA won 23-10.
Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" is also played during the 7th-inning stretch of New York Yankees home games. Proceeds or money from her performances of "God Bless America" are donated to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
Smith, who never married, rented various apartments in New York City during her long career. She had a home in Arlington, Va., and kept a summer home on a small island in Lake Placid, New York.
Smith was also a staunch conservative Republican who opposed labor unions, affirmative action, abortion, homosexuality, LGBT and women's rights, left-wing policies, and indecency. In 1969, in light of Jim Morrison's arrest in Miami for indecent exposure, Smith performed with The Lettermen, Anita Bryant, and Jackie Gleason in a concert demonstration against indecency, which President Richard Nixon commended the stars on their performances. (Source: Rock Almanac Copyright 1983.)
After attending services at a Roman Catholic church for twenty five years, Smith converted to Roman Catholicism in 1965.
In her later years, Smith was impaired by diabetes. In 1976, she suffered brain damage after slipping into a diabetic coma. In January 1986, both of her legs were amputated due to poor circulation caused by diabetes. Five months later, she underwent a mastectomy. On June 17, 1986, Smith died of respiratory arrest at Raleigh Community Hospital in Raleigh at the age of 79.
For over a year following her death, Smith's remains were stored in a vault at St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid, while officials of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church and the singer's executors disputed over Smith's request to be buried in a mausoleum on the cemetery's grounds. Her private burial service took place on November 14, 1987.