My post tonight is about the story of the very first public singing of “God Bless America.” America was in a terrible economic depression in 1940. Hitler was taking over Europe, and Americans were worried our nation would be pulled into a war. It was a time of great hardship. There was no television, and Americans listened to their favorite radio shows and entertainers in the evenings.
Kate Smith was a very famous entertainer of the time, probably the biggest star of her time. She was a large woman, one known today as a “plus size.” She was the inspiration behind the popular phrase still heard today: “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
Kate was also patriotic and hated to see her fellow Americans hurting as they were. She had faith and hope in America and in her fellow Americans and decided to do something to cheer them up. She visited Irving Berlin, a famous American song-writer [He also wrote “White Christmas.”] to ask his help. She wanted him to write a song that would help Americans feel good again about their country. After she described what she wanted, he went to his files and pulled out a song that he had written but never published in 1917 – more than 22 years previously.
Berlin gave the song to Kate Smith, and she worked on it with her studio orchestra. They had no idea how Americans would respond to the song but agreed they would give all profits from “God Bless America” to the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts have received millions of dollars in royalties from this song over the years.
The video begins with Kate Smith coming into the radio studio with the orchestra and an audience. She introduces the new song for the very first time and starts singing. After the first couple of verses, with her voice in the background still singing, scenes are shown from the 1940 movie “You’re In the Army Now.” At the 4:20 mark of the video there is a scene with a young man reading a paper; the actor is a young Ronald Reagan. I was surprised to hear the lead-in to the song because I do not remember hearing it previously.