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Kate Smith

The Sounds of History

The Sounds of History

Harold Schneider, one of NBC’s first technicians, recorded history from FDR’s Fireside Chats to the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. His daughter, Cooperstown’s Diane Koffer, has memorabilia aplenty from his groundbreaking life … and hers.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to AllOTSEGO.com

COOPERSTOWN

Diane Koffer, as a child, with “God Bless America” singer Kate Smith, who was friends with their family through her father, Harold Schneider, the audio engineer for NBC.

One Christmas Eve, Diane Koffer remembers her mother Gertrude getting a call from her husband, Harold Schneider.

“He said that Bob Hope’s plane couldn’t take off because of fog, so he was bringing him home for Christmas dinner,” said Koffer. “He told her not to tell anyone, that it was going to be low-key.”

Schneider, an audio engineer for the NBC radio, then television, network, was supposed to fly with the fabled comedian to where he would entertain to the troops for Christmas. “Of course, my mom told my aunt next door, and they rushed to get the fine china and the silver all laid out.”

Harold came home to find the living room filled with friends and neighbors. “But he didn’t have Bob Hope with him!” said Diane. “The fog had lifted and his plane had taken off. He was pretty mad at my mom, though.”

What A Woman! What A Country!

A Front Porch Perspective

What A Woman! What A Country!

Kate Smith with Babe Ruth
Jim Atwell

Maybe it’s a part of “old-timers’ disease,” as the pun has it.I mean repeating myself. My poor wife puts up with a lot of it – and it’s partially the fault of my columns. In them I’ve recorded lots of my life’s last 25 years, most of them spent in Anne’s great company. And further, I’ve also drawn into them life recollections from 20, 40 and 60 years ago.

I’ve shaped all those stories pretty tightly, and that makes them easy for me to recall, easy to spin out across someone’s coffee table or over dessert at a dinner party. Poor Anne! She’s heard all the tales by now and must sigh sometimes resignedly. Bless her patient spirit.

I really try not to repeat myself – at least (Anne excepted) before the same audience. But I’m going to do it now, deliberately. I’m going to retell a story I told you, over a hundred columns ago. There’s good reason for doing it. For, in these times, the story has a new, special resonance. I hope you’ll agree:

At a meeting of the Fly Creek Area Historical Society, Dick Smith of Albany came back home here to speak about the early history of recorded sound. A fine informal lecturer, Dick talked about everything from the mechanics of the first talking machines to fierce warfare among early recording companies.

Dick illustrated his talk with machines and recordings from his own collection. Some of his recordings are 100 years old – the age of the Grange Hall in which we’d gathered. We sat in the old building, listening to a thin voice that had been shouted into a pasteboard cone a century before. The singer was long dead, all but forgotten. Maybe that’s why his reedy voice moved us. We leaned forward to hear it.
But we were to be moved still more. For among Dick’s last selections was something that brought lumps to throats of all of us who’d been alive during World War II.

Record technology had advanced greatly by the ’40s; and now a rich, full voice, backed by a full orchestra, filled the old room. That voice, and the song it sang, swept us back 60 years. Then, the song was almost a second national anthem. The woman who made it so, said Dick, once sang it 60 times in a single weekend—during a marathon war-bond drive.

And that voice! Who’d heard its match for blending force with vibrant human warmth? It belonged to a large woman with a soul to match her size. When she sang that song, she made it embody national confidence, optimism, strength.

The song was “God Bless America.” The singer, of course, was Kate Smith. When she sang that anthem, she was our Mother Courage. Why, it was as if the Statue of Liberty had burst into song.

That night at the Grange Hall, the audience didn’t just listen to Kate. It sang along, softly, voices were full of memories, and a kind of reverence. At the end of the last stanza, we let our voices slowly descend the final three notes – mi, re, doh: “home sweet home.”

Kate’s voice didn’t drop; we knew it wouldn’t. Through our own quiet voices, we heard hers rocket up an octave on “sweet,” pause for an instant. Then, on “home,” her voice burst above us like a fireworks chrysanthemum shell. It spangled the dark sky, hung there.

“What a song!” we said to ourselves. “What a woman! What a country!”

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired

college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Punishing Present For The Past

COLUMN • Money Matters

Punishing Present

For The Past

 By TOM MORGAN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Join me in a grand political correctness crusade! Together we can punish the present for the past. This crusade has already racked up several victories. Many more lie ahead.

Our most recent victory: We beheaded Kate Smith. The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Flyers destroyed her recordings of “God Bless America” they used to play. The Flyers hauled her statue from its stadium. They did this after the crusade unearthed two of her recordings. From 80 years ago. They had racist lyrics.

By today’s standards they did. Those are the only ones that count. Today’s standards.

Onward!  Let us demand the NY Yankees close down. Kate used to sing racist lyrics. The Yanks practiced racism. Big time. They downright banned African-Americans from their entire organization. This, for many years after the Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson. The Yanks might as well have painted a sign on their stadium: BLACKS NEED NOT APPLY.

Onward!  Let us demand that all of Major League Baseball go out of business. Yes! We pulled down statues of generals who fought for the Confederacy. We chiseled names from buildings. We re-named parks and schools. Those that honored guys who owned slaves.

Well, for 50 years baseball would not let a black man don a Major League uniform. Banned them. For the color of their skin. Down with baseball! Destroy the Hall of Fame with its tributes to all those racists of old.

Down with the bigoted racist U.S. Senate. It was certainly that for a few hundred years.

The Senate honored Sen. Robert Byrd for 51 years. Mourned him as a hero of that esteemed body. Well, for many years Byrd was a Grand Cyclops of the KKK. While a senator. He fought bitterly against civil rights for black Americans.

As did Sen. J. William Fulbright. Yes, these mentors to Bill and Hillary were downright racists. Active racists. Let us take down their portraits and statues.

Let us extinguish the Fulbright Scholar Program. Let us remove Byrd’s name from the countless buildings and parks and highways in West Virginia. Leave it only on the sewage plants named after him.

Kate Smith only sang a few racist songs. These guys labored to deny rights to millions of Americans. They kept segregation and racism alive.

Let us close down the Congress that tolerated these racists. That lauded and honored them. Let us start anew. The whole structure was racist from its founding.

Onward! To more practical goals. Destroy the New Yorker magazine. For decades it ran disgusting cartoons.  Disgusting by today’s standards.

They lampooned women with big chests, blacks, Jewish merchants, fat women, flat-chested women, stupid blondes. They portrayed women as idiots. For their driving, their shopping, their looks, their looseness after a few drinks. One of their top cartoonists was obsessed with women’s breasts. His characters leered down blouses. They cheered when discovering breasts floated in the bath.

The New Yorker cartoons targeted Indians, Native Americans, gypsies, Italians, Arabs, Mexicans, Chinese, black cotton-pickers. They portrayed blacks with huge white lips. They featured Africans as ignorant savages with spears and grass skirts.  One cartoon featured a gentlemen’s outfitter store that displayed a range of KKK robes in its windows.

Down with the New Yorker, I say. It was a racist, sexist rag for 50 years. It deserves more punishment than Kate Smith. She sang. The New Yorker humiliated millions and openly encouraged racial and ethnic prejudice.

Close down NBC and other networks. They kept blacks off the air for decades. They made millions on the Amos ’n’ Andy show.

That program invited millions to laugh at the depiction of laziness and ignorance of blacks. It mocked blacks’ dreams of improving their lot. One critic called it a mean-spirited exploitation of racial stereotypes. Its characters mangled the language. What was most humiliating to blacks was that the characters on radio were whites, impersonating blacks. They wore blackface for publicity shots.

Join the crusade. Along with today’s rap groups.  Yes.

I asked a few rap groups for support for this crusade. I cannot print their responses because they were filled with profanity. Lots of variations of the N word and “ho’s” and “white MFers.” From the translation it looks to me as if they are really opposed to racist stuff, man.

One thing I know for sure. All this virtue-posturing is pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?

From Tom…as in Morgan.

    Tom Morgan, a retired Oneonta investment counselor and author of the nationally syndicated Money Matters column, lives in Franklin.  You can reach him at tomasinmorgan@yahoo.com.

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