SALT LAKE CITY — It is customary for Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” to play daily at 11 a.m. at the boardwalk and beach in Wildwood, New Jersey.
According to Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano, that tradition will continue despite increasing controversy surrounding what many have called Smith’s history of racism.
“We're playing that song because it's a great song and a great rendition of that song. We don't have any intention of taking it down,” Troiano told the Courier-Post this week. “If protesters are coming in and calling me a racist, they're welcome to do that."
Last week, the New York Yankees announced they would no longer be playing Smith’s version of “God Bless America” during games after being made aware of potentially racist lyrics in some of Smith’s previous songs.
The Philadelphia Flyers also announced plans to stop playing the song and removed a statue of Smith outside of their arena earlier this week.
In a statement released Sunday, the Flyers said, “In recent days, we learned that several of the songs Kate Smith performed in the 1930s include lyrics and sentiments that are incompatible with the values of our organization, and evoke painful and unacceptable themes.”
The songs referred to are “Pickaninny Heaven” and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” Both reference black Americans with terms that have been called racist and offensive. “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” has a lyric that reads “someone had to pick the cotton … that’s why darkies were born.”
Troiano said he thinks the decision to remove Smith’s statue and stop playing her song at sports events are politically correct overreactions.
"It's a patriotic song by Irving Berlin sung by a woman who a played a part in a play," Troiano told the Courier-Post Monday about Smith's 1930s performance of "That's Why Darkies Were Born,” which has been described by some as “a satirical critique of racist attitudes.”7 comments on this story
Troiano said the song only reflects “the sentiment of the day.”
"Was it wrong? It absolutely was. It was a different world. We changed history, we changed how we treat people. Let it be a lesson of the ignorance of another time."
Troiano said he expects all kinds of reactions to Wildwood’s response to the controversy, but ultimately, “if you're offended, you're offended.”
"Everyone needs to take a deep breath and stop being so touchy,” Troiano said. “We're about having a good time. Forget the political crap and enjoy the beach."