Happy Fourth of July! In honor of the Independence Day holiday, this installment of Live from Carnegie Hall focuses on the 1963 concert by Kate Smith, whose rendition of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" has become the version of the patriotic classic.
Artist: Kate SmithAlbum: Kate Smith at Carnegie HallLabel: RCA VictorDate Recorded: November 2, 1963Fun Fact: Kate Smith's version of "God Bless America" was played as the wake-up call for the crew of the Atlantis space shuttle on the final day of the final mission of NASA's shuttle program.
Soprano Kate Smith made her Carnegie Hall debut in some rarefied company on March 4, 1935. She sang as part of a variety show that included entertainment giants of the period that included Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, and Ray Bolger who—four years later—would achieve cinematic immortality as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Speakers that night included Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and one of the most popular and controversial radio personalities at a time when radio was king, Walter Winchell.
Although Smith's radio, television, and recording careers flourished in the 1940s and '50s, she performed only once more at Carnegie Hall before the November 1963 concert—a May 1945 benefit for the US Convalescent Hospital at Camp Upton, Long Island (which itself had close associations with Irving Berlin). In fact, the 1963 concert marked her solo concert debut at the Hall.
That night, backed by New York Pops' founder Skitch Henderson and his orchestra, Smith announced that "we won't have Puccini tonight, but we will have Mancini, Gershwin, and Berlin." She performed all of her fan favorites, including her signature "When the Moon Comes Over The Mountain" and, of course, "God Bless America." A radio host since the 1930s, Smith exuded confidence and warmth when interacting with her audience that evening.
Kate Smith's Carnegie Hall career ended like it began—surrounded by stars as part of a benefit concert. On October 3, 1965, she joined Woody Allen, Jackie Mason, Dionne Warwick, and Sammy Davis Jr., among others, in a benefit for the Nat King Cole Cancer Foundation, billed as the First Annual Festival of Stars.
Kate Smith performs "God Bless America" in an excerpt from the 1943 Warner Brothers film This Is the Army, based on the Irving Berlin musical of the same name.
Related:Live from Carnegie Hall SeriesHistory of the Hall