Kathryn Elizabeth “Kate” Smith (May 1, 1907 – June 17, 1986) was an American singer, best known for her rendition of Irving Berlin‘s “God Bless America“. Smith had a radio, television, and recording career spanning five decades, reaching its pinnacle in the 1940s.
Smith was born in Greenville, Virginia. Her professional musical career began in 1930, when she was discovered by Columbia Records vice president Ted Collins, who became her longtime partner and manager. Collins put her on radio in 1931. She appeared in 1932 in Hello Everybody!, with co-stars Randolph Scott and Sally Blane, and in the 1943 wartime movie This is the Army she sang “God Bless America”.
Late in the following video you’ll see a young Lt. Ronald Reagan make a cameo. 39 years later President Ronald Reagan awarded Kate Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom America’s highest civilian honor.
When the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team played her rendition of “God Bless America” before their game on December 11, 1969, an unusual part of her career began. The team began to play the song before home games every once in awhile; the perception was that the team was more successful on these occasions, so the tradition grew.
At the Flyers’ home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 11, 1973, she made a surprise appearance to perform the song in person and received a tremendous reception. The Flyers won that game by a 2-0 score.
Kate Smith, who never married, was crippled by diabetes. She died in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 17, 1986 at the age of 79. Since her death, Miss Smith’s remains had been stored in a vault at Saint Agnes Catholic Cemetery in Lake Placid, New York. In addition to requesting burial at St. Agnes, Smith left $25,000 to the church -and half the residuals of her estate.
(Source: Wikipedia, with a lot of editing by me)