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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

We may have sung it with pride and a lump in our throats on Memorial and Veterans days, perhaps others. In some ways it is almost our country’s second national anthem for our country.

Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” in 1918 and left it sitting for 20 years in a desk drawer. Kate Smith stopped by to see him and ask for something special she could sing for Armistice (now Veteran’s) Day. The rest is history.

Smith and others sang “God Bless” often during the dark days of World War II when there was the real possibility that Hitler & Co. might win. It was sung after every Allied victory, at war’s end and countless times since then.

For a long time it was always sung at Philadelphia Flyers and New York Yankees games. The Flyers even had a statue erected depicting Miss Smith as she sang. She kept singing it until she passed away in 1986.

 

While the storm cloud gather far across the sea/Let us swear allegiance to a land that is free/Let us all be grateful to  a land so far/As we raise our voices in solemn prayer/God Bless America.

 

No more. Never mind that a first-generation immigrant from Russia who was grateful to be here wrote it. Never mind that a woman with a tremendous voice captured America’s heart when she sang it. Now, 33 years after she died, Smith has been “cancelled” because someone discovered that early in the 1930s she sang two songs which were racist.

Long deceased, Smith has no chance to speak on her own behalf, but apparently that doesn’t matter. Someone or some group decided because she sang a couple obscure songs a few years prior to “God Bless America,” she must be stricken from the list of “acceptables.”

Never mind that Paul Robeson sang the same songs; never mind that it took the Yankees another eight years to sign Elston Howard, their first black player, after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. I suspect that most hockey teams were latecomers to including minority players too.

No matter. Political correctness mavens have canceled Kate Smith. Gene Autry and Judy Garland might be next. Long before he crooned “I’m Back in the Saddle Again” and she sang “Over the Rainbow,” both sang “Don’t Bite the Hand that is Feeding You.” The song’s basic message was that if you don’t like it here and if you can’t be grateful for the opportunities, then go home.

The real problem with this emphasis on always being politically correct is it’s a constantly-changing target. What was acceptable just 24 hours ago might not be tolerable today.

It seems to me the only constant factor is be nice to others, apologize if we say or do something wrong, and be kind.