Saturday will be a very big day for a very big lady with a very big voice.
Kate Smith, she of the great girth and the legendary voice, will finally receive the most singular honor any American can achieve. "The Great Kate" is getting her own postage stamp.
Kate Smith was born May 1, 1907, and was 60 years old by the time I wandered into her spotlight. I first met Kathryn (as her friends called her) by chance in Lake Placid in the summer of 1967. I was 17 years old and had pretty much no clue who she was. In a "Forrest Gump" kind of a way, Kate and I became friends. We met many times and exchanged dozens of letters over the years.
I have great memories of Kate. Once, when visiting her in a hospital in New York City, she asked me to go down on the street and get her a newspaper and a fresh cup of coffee. I think I had only been in New York City just once before, but I ventured out and proceeded to get lost. By the time I got back to her hospital room, I found myself presenting a very amused singing star with a cold cup of coffee and an almost out-of date newspaper.
I took my family to see her perform in Allentown, Pa., at an outdoor concert. A thunderstorm forced an interminable delay. Finally Kate strode out onto the stage, and miraculously, the rain stopped and "her moon" came out to illuminate a particularly memorable performance.
Another time, I got all spiffed up in my first tuxedo and took some friends with me to see Kate receive a high honor in Manhattan. Kate was not scheduled to sing that night, but the crowd would have none of that and calls for "God Bless America" rang out from every corner. I could tell she was nervous, but she snapped her fingers a couple of times and sent her notes soaring throughout the ballroom.
On July 4, 1970, she gave a performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with Bob Hope and others. I was there that day and even rode in the limousine with her.
Kate Smith and "God Bless America" are forever intertwined. It was given to her personally by Irving Berlin in 1938. It became our nation's second (and most singable) national anthem.
Kate never took a penny from 50 years of singing that tune. All her royalties went to the Girl Scouts of America. Over the years, the royalty income waned as patriotism seemed to go out of fashion. Of course, after 9/11, the song would be resuscitated to great appeal, and Kate's recording of it (especially at New York Yankees and Philadelphia Flyers sporting events) would keep the "little girls in green" flush for years to come.
That Kate was a historic American icon is no secret. She was the first female to have a successful solo show on radio and was the first female to have a successful solo show on television. She recorded more than 600 songs and sold millions of records.
In a day and age when wars were paid for in real time (what a concept), the World War II War Bond Rally became a necessary tool in our military's arsenal. Many were held. Nobody did more than Kate Smith. When the coffers were low and the "dark clouds gathered far across the sea," Kate stood fast in service to her country. Her historic one-woman radio appeals are credited with raising more than $600 million. That's $1 billion in today's money _ from her alone. An incredible feat.
For decades, people from all corners of the country have been lobbying the U.S. Post Office to honor this woman, who died in 1986, with her own postage stamp. Nothing seemed like a surer bet.
Still, we suffered through years of bureaucratic indifference. We bided our time as millions fretted over the "fat Elvis" or the "thin Elvis." We watched with dismay as an odd assortment of Americans was honored with that special place in the upper right hand corner of an envelope. Desi Arnaz (1999) got one without Lucy. Boris Karloff spooked us with his 1997 stamp. Johnny Appleseed even got one in 1966. And Geronimo in 1994. The last straw seemed to break over us when Homer Simpson was picked over Kate last year.
But this is her year. On May 1, 2010, Kate will get her own stamp. It features a vivid image of her in full 1960s performance mode standing in front of (what else?) an American flag. It is about time.
Four generations of Americans knew Kate Smith as a star of supernova brilliance. I just knew her as Kathryn. Friend.
I'll catch you in two ...
'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." He invites you to contact him at email@example.com.
Saturday will be a very big day for a very big lady with a very big voice.
- Big Chuck
There was just no telling about snow days
Winters get harder as we get older. Things change. It snows more. It snows less. It gets colder. It's a lot milder. It all changes as our knees start to creak and the thought of shoveling a foot of snow seems positively daunting.
And the music goes round and round
The day has finally arrived.
When did pranks turn into vandalism?
I was a teenage vandal.
Happy and sad memories of Jan. 7, 1966
Jan. 7 is always a big celebration day in the D'Imperio family. My twin sisters, Teri and Mary, plus my youngest daughter, Katie, all share it as a birthday. The date, however, is not without a dark significance.
Lesser known greats that passed away in 2013
The year 2013 is drawing to a close and as it does I would like to give a tip of the hat and a fond goodbye to a group of famous people who left the world stage. Their departures will be noted here in this column although they may have missed a final adios in the major media outlets. Letâ€™s give them their moment in the sun.
- Monday, December 16, 2013
Reunions all the sweeter amid WWII
There is nothing like running into old friends in the most unexpected places. Like on a vacation, or in a mall or even in the supermarket. It is always a time for a â€œHail and how are you?â€� moment.
- Monday, December 2, 2013
There's no tough sledding when you're a youngster|
Winter weather is here. And so are outdoor winter activities.
- Monday, November 18, 2013
Vroman's Nose hike is no walk in the park
I haven't gone on a hike since 1961 when President Kennedy asked all Americans to take a 50-mile hike for physical fitness. I did it then. With a large group of my schoolmates and friends. We walked from Sidney to Oneonta and back.
- Monday, November 4, 2013
Being a grandpa will be better than just OK
I am going to be a grandfather.
- Monday, October 21, 2013
Some hits from the soundtrack of my life
As most people know, I wear two hats at my radio station.
- Monday, October 7, 2013
Some book picks from an avid reader
I came to reading begrudgingly. I was an impatient student easily bored with books. Finally an eighth-grade English teacher in Sidney, Kay Jester, figured out my problem. She told me that I had an inquisitive mind and had an affinity for storytelling. She also told me I was reading the wrong books.
- Monday, September 23, 2013
Swapping stories with a sweet centenarian
Marge Mathews is one very special lady.
- Monday, September 9, 2013
Farm honor system can grow on you
What a difference the flip of a calendar makes. I love September and the produce stands!
- Monday, August 26, 2013
My brush with a future president
President Obama came to town!
- Monday, August 12, 2013
Colonoscopy isn't much of a pain in the ...
When a professional looks you in the eye and says, "Sit down, I have something I want to talk to you about," your normal reaction is a flexing of the gluteus maximus and the appearance of sweat drops on the palms of your hands.
- Monday, July 29, 2013
An easy way â€¨to be a hero
It is not much to ask. Plus they give you a cookie and a glass of juice!
- Monday, July 15, 2013
Digging up memories, one box at a time
My Dad kept everything.
- Monday, July 1, 2013
Moms, girlfriends and wives of TV history
I recently saw on TV a birthday salute to actress Betty White. It included many archival videos, celebrity interviews and reminisces from her early days on television. There is no doubt that Betty has found the magic pill. Into her nineties she is still starring in a hit sitcom, "Hot in Cleveland!"
- Monday, June 17, 2013
Upstate theme parks offered affordable thrills
I saw in the news last week that Disney theme parks are raising admission prices to almost $100 a person. Children (who Uncle Walt considers 10 and under) are now $86 a day.
- Monday, June 3, 2013
Getting creative with gifts for grads
Well, it is graduation time again. So much pressure, so many decisions, so many things to take into consideration.
- There was just no telling about snow days