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 Kate Smith

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Kate Smith

Singer. A popular icon of the Depression and World War II eras, she best known for her stirring renditions of patriotic anthems, most notably her definitive version of "God Bless America," which she originally introduced for Irving Berlin in 1938. Known as "The Songbird of the South" and "The First Lady of Radio" in her prolific 5-decade career, she had an unlikely beginning, as a chubby Southern girl without professional training, but she knew she could sing and set out to capitalize on it at an early age. Born Kathryn Elizabeth Smith in Greenville, Virginia on May 1, 1907, she initially trained to be a nurse but began singing professionally in theatres and at nightclubs during the early 1920s, soon relocating to New York to pursue roles in vaudeville and on Broadway, where she appeared in "Honeymoon Lane" in 1926 and later in "Hit the Deck" and "Flying High." In the era before the onstage microphones and amplifiers that many of today's singers rely on, Smith's richly textured, booming contralto voice did a terrific job of filling a large theatre with sound on its own, and she was an immediate hit. Discovered by Columbia Records V.P. Ted Collins, who later became her manager, she signed with Columbia in 1927, debuting with "One Sweet Letter from You," backed by Red Nichols' Charleston Chasers. In 1931 she began hosting her own radio show on CBS; its theme song, "When the Moon Comes over the Mountain," which subsequently became her first major recording hit, selling some 19 million copies. She was an immediate success on the air and her vaudeville act soon broke the record for longevity at New York's legendary Palace Theatre. In 1932, Smith scored her second smash hit with "River, Stay 'Way from My Door," recorded with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians; they later backed her on "Too Late," another Top Ten success released that same year. In all, she recorded two dozen hits for Columbia between 1927 and 1946. While American listeners looked to Smith for reassurance throughout the Depression era, she became a national icon in 1938, when she recorded Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" for RCA Victor; within a year its success established it as a kind of unofficial national anthem, and upon the United States' entrance into WWII it re-entered the charts in both 1940 and 1942. In 1940 Kate and Ted Collins incorporated as Kated. This corporation, which produced her shows and others, bought a professional basketball team, the Kate Smith Celtics, and made its partners millionaires. During World War II, Kate performed on two around-the-clock radio marathons to sell war bonds. Altogether, she sold over $600 million in bonds. She had America's most popular radio variety hour, "The Kate Smith Hour," which aired weekly from 1937-45. At the same time she had the No. 1 daytime radio show, the midday "Kate Smith Speaks," a news and commentary program. In 1950 Kate went on television with a Monday-Friday afternoon variety show, "The Kate Smith Hour" (1950-54). It proved so popular that NBC gave her a prime-time show on Wednesday evenings, "The Kate Smith Evening Hour." In addition to her stage and radio popularity, Smith also appeared in films, starring in "The Big Broadcast" (1932) and "This Is the Army" (1943) with Ronald Reagan. Upon the 1964 death of her longtime manager Ted Collins, Smith settled into semi-retirement, and greatly reduced her performing schedule in subsequent years. Her last TV series was CBS's "The Kate Smith Show," a weekly half-hour musical series in 1960. She made many guest appearances on top TV shows, such as "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show", "The Jack Paar Show," ABC Hollywood Palace," "The Andy Williams Show," "The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show," " The Dean Martin Show," "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," and "The Donny & Marie Show." In the sixties she began making LP albums, scoring such best sellers as "Kate Smith at Carnegie Hall" (1963), "How Great Thou Art" (1965), and "America's Favorites: Kate Smith/Arthur Fiedler/Boston Pops" (1967). Fittingly, her last public performance was her beloved rendition of "God Bless America" on a bicentennial television special just before July 4, 1976. On October 26, 1982 President Reagan awarded Smith the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. After a lifetime of struggling with her weight and decades of related health problems, Kate Smith died from complications of diabetes on June 17, 1986 in Raleigh, North Carolina at age 79. She was inducted posthumously into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1999.

Bio by: Edward Parsons

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2236
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Kate Smith (1 May 1907–17 Jun 1986), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2236, citing Saint Agnes Cemetery, Lake Placid, Essex County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .