The first time “God Bless America” was ever heard nationally it was sung by Kate Smith. This occurred on November 11, 1938 over Kate Smith’s CBS radio show, “The Kate Smith Hour.”
Kate Smith, born Kathryn Elizabeth Smith (May 1, 1907-June 17, 1986), was known as “The First Lady of Radio.” Her singing career lasted 50 years, in radio, television, and recording. She was also known as “The Songbird of the South” because of her tremendous popularity during World War II.
Kate Smith was born on May 1, 1907, in Greenville, Virginia, and grew up in Washington, D.C. Her father sang in the choir at the Catholic Church, and her mother played piano at the Presbyterian Church. At the age of five, she was singing at church social events. By the time she was eight, she was singing for the troops at Army camps in the Washington area during World War I. Her earliest performances were during amateur nights at vaudeville theaters in D.C.
She first appeared on radio in 1931, and her popularity grew. Her recording of “Rose O’Day,” recorded in 1942, sold over one million copies, her first song to be awarded a “Gold Record.” Her theme song was “When the Moon Comes over the Mountain,” released in 1931, a song she helped write.
Kate Smith greeted her audience with “Hello, everybody!” and signed off with “Thanks for listenin’.”
She starred in many movies, including “This is the Army,” in which she sang “God Bless America”, which became her signature song.
Kate Smith was a major star of radio, usually backed by Jack Miller’s Orchestra. She began with her twice-a-week NBC series, Kate Smith Sings (quickly expanded to six shows a week), followed by a series of shows for CBS: Kate Smith and Her Swanee Music (1931–33), The Kate Smith Matinee (1934–35); The Kate Smith New Star Revue (1934–35); Kate Smith’s Coffee Time (1935–36), and The Kate Smith A&P Bandwagon (1936–37).
The Kate Smith Hour was a leading radio variety show, offering comedy, music, and drama with appearances by top personalities of films and theater for eight years (1937–1945). The show’s resident comics were Abbott and Costello and Henny Youngman. “The Aldrich Family,” a classic radio comedy would be a “spin-off” from sketches on the show.
Smith would continue her radio career on the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS, ABC, and NBC, presenting both music and talk shows on radio until 1960.
On television, Smith starred in “The Kate Smith Hour” on NBC from 1950-1954, hosting until 1953 in the late afternoon hour of 4:00 pm ET. James Dean and Audrey Hepburn made early acting appearances on the show. Smith also starred in the weekly “The Kate Smith Evening Hour,” which included the only major filmed footage of Hank Williams.
During World War II, Kate Smith contributed to the sale of over $600 million (equivalent to $11.1 billion today) of war bonds during a series of marathon broadcasts. No other show-business star came near her as revenue producer of War Bonds to finance the United States’ war effort.
Smith recorded dozens of successful albums and songs during the 1930s and 1940s. She recorded sporadically during the 1950s, and in 1963 signed a contract with RCA Victor to record a number of successful albums, including several that charted on the Billboard Hot 200 chart alongside the major rock stars of the era.
From US Library of Congress “National Recording Preservation Board:”
Perhaps no song is more associated with America, and perhaps no song is more associated with a singer, than “God Bless America” as sung by Kate Smith. Smith’s timeless recording of Irving Berlin’s patriotic theme was among the first songs named to the Library of Congress’ National Recorded Sound Registry.
The power of “God Bless America,” and the feelings of national pride it engendered, took hold quickly. So popular was “God Bless America” that Smith would sing it on every episode of her radio show through December 1940, she would include it in all of her concerts and on her later TV shows. It would replace her theme “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain” as the song most associated with her.”
Here is a link to the full document from the Library of Congress:
On October 26, 1982, Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. In bestowing the honor, Reagan said:
“The voice of Kate Smith is known and loved by millions of Americans, young and old. In war and peace, it has been an inspiration. Those simple but deeply moving words, “God bless America” have taken on added meaning for all of us because of the way Kate Smith sang them. Thanks to her they have become a cherished part of all our lives, an undying reminder of the beauty, the courage, and the heart of this great land of ours. In giving us a magnificent, selfless talent like Kate Smith, God has truly blessed America.”
Now, courtesy of YouTube channel “rpf16mm” is Kate Smith performing “God Bless America” from the movie “This is the Army:”