Not because anyone has complained that the song is racist, but because Smith recorded other racially-insensitive standards from and during the Jim Crow era.
The Yankees pulled Smith’s “God Bless America” from the rotation at the start of the season, but the New York Daily News reported the reason Thursday — “the Yankees were made aware of Smith’s history of potential racism.”
According to the Daily News, the “potential racism” of which the Yankees were made aware included that she recorded “Pickaninny Heaven,” a jingle about black children where, among other things, they fantasize about “great big watermelons.” She recorded a film clip to promote the song at a black orphanage and, the Daily News reported, “much of the imagery is startlingly racist.”
She also endorsed a “mammy doll” in 1939, which the Daily News said resembles the Aunt Jemima caricature.
Her other recordings included “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” where the performer sings “someone had to pick the cotton. … That’s why darkies were born.”
That song also was recorded by black activist Paul Robeson and was at the time considered a satirical put-down of racist ideas, albeit using language that would never pass muster now, the Daily News reported.
“The Yankees have been made aware of a recording that had been previously unknown to us and decided to immediately and carefully review this new information,” a club spokesman said. “The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously. And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.”
The NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers have a decades-old tradition of playing Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” on special occasions. Smith even performed it live in-person in 1974, before the decisive Game 6 that clinched the team’s first Stanley Cup and a statue of her stands outside the Flyers’ arena.
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