New Jersey Boardwalk to Keep Playing Singer Kate Smith Amid Criticisms of Racism, Says Mayor

April 22, 2019 Updated: April 22, 2019

The mayor of a resort city on the New Jersey coast on April 22 vowed to continue playing music by America’s ‘First Lady of Radio’ who is being accused of racism.

Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. has ruled out pausing the late Kate Smith’s 1938 hit song “God Bless America” at the city’s iconic boardwalk entertainment precinct because it is a tradition.

“We have no intentions of removing it … the song is greater than anything so it will continue to play in Wildwood,” Troiano told Talk Radio 1210 WPHT. “It’s an urban balling patriotic song that has nothing to do with anything other than [loving] America.”

New York Yankees Don’t See Satire

The mayor’s remarks came just days after the New York Yankees stopped playing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch until an investigation into claims that Smith’s music promoted racist views has ended.

Lyrics from Smith’s 1939 single “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” are the main point of contention, specifically the phrases “someone had to pick the cotton” and “that’s why darkies were born,” according to The New York Daily News, which reported that the song has been described as a satire of white supremacists.

Singer Kate Smith
Singer Kate Smith is seen on the screen before Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 9, 2010. (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

“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 spokesperson said in a statement to the Associated Press. “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 lyrics of the song start with: “Someone had to pick the cotton/Someone had to plant the corn, Someone had to slave and be able to sing/That’s why darkies were born,” and goes on for another four verses to end with: “Someone had to fight the Devil/Shout about Gabriel’s Horn, Someone had to stoke the train, That would bring God’s children to green pastures/That’s why darkies were born.”

But Troiano believes the song in question was not intended to offend anyone, explaining it was originally created in 1931 for “George White’s Scandals” Broadway revue, which is a popular theatrical form of entertainment comprising of multiple acts, music, dance, and sketches. The song was recorded by both Smith and Paul Robeson, who was the son of a runaway slave who would go on to become a black pro-Soviet Union activist.

“It was a satirical Broadway play written by the soldiers [and] by an African-American gentlemen,” Troiano said.

American singer, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 – 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano on July 22, 1958. (Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Smith, who died in 1986, was also questioned for promoting “Mammy Dolls” in 1939, which were dolls based on a caricature of a black woman reminiscent of the fictional character Aunt Jemima, which a PepsiCo subsidiary used to market pancake mix, syrup, and other breakfast foods.

Statue Dismantled by Philadelphia Flyers

A statue in honor of Smith was covered and dismantled on April 22 outside of the Philadelphia Flyers’ arena where her version of “God Bless America” was also played before games.

The mayor told NBC News that he does not believe history should be rewritten simply because some people feel offended by what happened more than 80 years ago.

“I am a small town mayor and I look at what’s happening to the world and it’s amazing how everyone wants to rewrite history,” he said. “We understand the history but the world has gotten so politically correct and so afraid that they’re going to offend somebody.”

Troiano suggests those who feel offended should try to let it go and move on.

“I once watched a comedian one time who offended me, so what does that mean? You’re offended, get over it, it comes and it goes.

“Learn from your mistakes, and move forward,” he said.

He said there are more offensive songs that people could be voicing their concerns about.

“Should all these rap songs be banned?” he said. “All [those] conversations about [harming] women, kill[ing] the police, the ‘N’ word (narcotics) dropped all over the place, where is the outrage of that?”

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