After the September 11th terrorist attack
on the Twin Towers in New York City
, the U.S. experience
d a resurgence
that hadn't been seen in years. There was a run on American flag
s in the stores and even cool citizens of the world, like myself, felt stirrings of national pride
that had disappeared back in the Joe McCarthy era
The following Sunday the priest at church selected Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" as one of the hymns. As I looked around the church, I noticed that some of the older parishioners, myself included, sang the song with tears streaming down our faces. Now I hadn't cried like that in many years and I wondered what had happened to us. At the coffee hour, I checked out the other weepers and almost the first words out of our mouths was "Kate Smith." That song flooded us with bittersweet memories of Kate Smith singing that song on the radio during WWII. I would imagine that British pensioners might have similar feelings, if they heard in a similar set of circumstances (Dame) Gracie Fields sing When the lights go on again.
Kathryn Elizabeth Smith was born May 1, 1907 in Washington DC. By 1926 she had appeared in the the Broadway musical comedy Honeymoon Lane and later in Hit the Deck and Flying High. In 1931 her partner and manager, Ted Collins, produced her first radio broadcast which continued until 1945.
She sang "God Bless America" for the first time in 1943 in the Irving Berlin motion picture This is the Army. Berlin claimed that it was his most important song and Smith predicted that we would still be singing it long after they disappeared from the music scene. This was also the last song she ever sang publicly in a bicentennial special just before July 4, 1976. The song continued its popularity when on September 11, members of the U.S. Senate sang it on the steps of the Capitol. It was sung again when the stock exchange re-opened on the Monday following the attack on the WTC.
She was a big woman, with plenty of chest resonance and could belt out a song like "God Bless America," or caress a melody like "When the Moon Comes over the Mountain," which remained her theme song until the end of her career. She broke into television in the 50's and in addition to her own show, she made many appearances in the variety shows of the period. Later she gave concerts around the U.S. and appeared in Las Vegas.
She died in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 17, 1986.