Why a CorrectionHistory.Org Site Link
To Kate Smith Singing
God Bless America?*

Bronx historian Bill Twomey, whose two-part mini-history of Hart Island appears elsewhere on our Correction History web site, sent us the link to the Kate Smith God Bless America film clip that depicts her introducing the song on her radio show in 1938.

Above is a generic American pre-TV scene of a family gathered near the radio in the living room.

[Image from Mortal Journey web site.]

An answer in
three parts,
not necessarily
in the order of

1 -- As a child, the future webmaster of the Correction History site, grew up listening to Kate Smith on the radio during the WWII era. Yes, the family after dinner would gather around the Philco Tube Radio, a member of the wood console cabinet floor model species that dominated the living room in our house and countless other homes all across the country.

Chairs and the sofa were so situated that family members could face and make comments to each other during broadcasts since the radio projected no images on a screen monopolizing attention.

The future webmaster usually played with his toys on the floor while listening and waiting for the show’s regular comedy team, Abbott & Costello, to do one of its funny skits like “Who’s on First?”

2 -- The link to a YouTube film clip depicting Kate debuting God Bless America came to CorrectionHistory.Org from its long-time friend and supporter Bill Twomey, historian, author of several books and Bronx Times Reporter columnist. His two-part mini-history of Hart Island appears elsewhere on our web site.

For health reasons, Bill in October 2012 stepped down as president of the East Bronx History Forum which he founded in the early 2000s and which continues its monthly lecture series in the Huntington Free Library and Reading Room at 9 Westchester Square, the Bronx, except during the summer months of July and August.

One of the songs Camp Upton soldier Irvin Berlin did NOT cut from his Yip Vip Yaphank musical was his musical complaint about the bugler's wake-up call. The film clip shows a bugle being taking from its Yip Yip Yaphank glass case.

While health problems curtail his getting around these days, they haven’t stopped his sending emails of historic interest. One such received by CorrectionHistory.Org included a link to a clip from the film This Is the Army retelling how Irving Berlin gave Kate Smith the song God Bless America to introduce on her radio show on the eve of WWII.

Originally the composer had written it for a WWI Army musical Yip Yip Yaphank he put together to raise funds to build a library for fellow soldiers at Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island. But eventually he dropped the patriotic hymn from the show.

It stayed shelved for two decades until Kate asked him for a special song to lift the spirit of Americans as they watched war clouds gathering over Europe.

She introduced God Bless America on her radio show heard by millions of Americans. It became so popular that many wanted it to replace the more-difficult-to-sing Star Spangled Banner as the national anthem. All proceeds from the Yip Yip Yaphank-rejected song go to the Boy and Girls Scouts of America.

Eventually in the post-WWII era, the Atomic Energy Commission took over the Camp Upton site on which emerged Brookhaven National Laboratory. During the same period, Suffolk County placed many of its government facilities at nearby locations in Yaphank.

3 -- One of those facilities was (and still is) the Yaphank Correctional Facility. It was originally built in 1959 with an inmate capacity for 500-plus. Later housing additions (1982, 1986, and 1987) increased that capacity. In May 2013, the first of a projected 440 inmates were transferred to the newest expansion of the Yaphank jail which, since it cost about $185 million, has been dubbed the “Taj Mahol” by the county executive.

The above image of part of the Yaphank jail's interior is from the web site of the LiRo Group, which "provided construction management services for the construction of this new addition to the Yaphank facility and the renovation of the existing structure." The caption explains, "The project will ultimately provide housing for 1,265 inmates as well as the infrastructure and support facilities necessary for the proper processing, care and feeding of the inmate population."

Constructed in response to a State Commission on Corrections 2004 mandate to alleviate overcrowding at the county’s Riverhead jail, the new building features housing pods reportedly designed to accommodate supposedly up to 60 inmates, under the watchful eyes of a single officer. At Riverhead, the maximum number per officer was 40. That shift might be considered historic, regardless of the arguments in favor or against such a set-up.

So, when next you hear the unofficial anthem for the “land that’s free” (except for those incarcerated), think of its connection to Yip Yip Yaphank, the town where Correction History is being made at one of the newest correctional buildings in New York State.

Below are some links to the YouTube film clip and even earlier radio versions of the patriotic hymm. Also below are its traditional lyrics in case you want to sing along, if only in your head:

Here is the URL sent by Bill Twomey for the YouTube clip from the 1943 film This is the Army that depicts Kate Smith introducing God Bless America on her radio show Nov. 10, 1938.

Here is a link to a MP3 version of the actual original audio from that Nov. 10, 1938 radio broadcast (not the better sounding movie recreation five years later).

Here is a link to a MP3 version of the actual audio from a later broadcast after the U.S. entered WWII.

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

*Why her 'God Bless America' renditions remain of this history site

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