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back to her hospital room, I found myself presenting a very amused singing star with a cold cup of coffee and an almost out-of date newspaper.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
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.
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.
Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old
I asked Cam Morris, head of Eastern Travel/Oneonta Bus Lines, how many years her company has been handling the Safety Patrol trip to Washington, D.C.
My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
Ask any hospital administrators if they've ever heard of a closed hospital in New York state that has ever been re-opened. They will say, "Impossible." In a half century of going through records you can't find any.
Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'
We just came back from a weekend in Manchester, Vt., and my wife insists that something "magical" happens when you pass the state sign. "I think they spray 'Vermont Vapor' out of the sign or something," she opined, "something that actually changes us."
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Selections from the virtual mailbag
Well, it's time to open up the email bag, and it's really full!
- Monday, March 25, 2013
Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'
In 1969, I was "The Doughnut King" in Sidney.
- Monday, March 11, 2013
Opera great's visit still a thrilling memory
Opera singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993) has been called the "most distinctive American voice of the 20th century."
- Monday, February 25, 2013
Film clip a window into Oneonta's past
One of my radio listeners sent me an astonishing piece of video recently. I posted it on my Facebook page (go to Facebook, search "BIG CHUCK") and it has been viewed by well over 1,000 people in just a week.
- Monday, February 11, 2013
Many made stop at upstate naval base
My father was in the U.S. Navy. Not for long, but he did enlist out of high school in 1944. He did his naval training at Sampson Naval Training Base in Romulus. Shortly after Dad's basic training, he was honorably discharged because of a health issue. So, although his service was brief, I needed to find out as much about it as I possibly could.
- Monday, January 28, 2013
Local foods worthy of national spotlight
Well, President Obamaâ€™s second inauguration is over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction.
- Monday, January 14, 2013
Remembering lives of the not-so-famous
I write about 25 columns a year for this paper. And I must admit, this annual one is always my favorite. A lot of famous people left this world last year, including General Norman Schwarzkopf, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singer Andy Williams and TV's George Jefferson actor -- Sherman Hemsley.
- Monday, December 31, 2012
Canines create unforgettable moments
Last year, I used my holiday column to pay tribute to my dog, Stella. The darn dog actually received fan mail after that, and has insisted that I do a shout-out to her canine colleagues each year around this time. So, to keep Stella happy, here goes.
- Monday, December 17, 2012
Nothing like an old-fashioned movie theater
What is it about a movie theater?
- Monday, December 3, 2012
Chuck's daughter returns to a town full of memories
My daughter Frances, OHS Class of 2000, came home for Thanksgiving last week after not having been in her hometown for nearly five years. I asked her to be my "guest columnist" to share her thoughts about coming home for the holidays. I hope you enjoy her story.
- Monday, November 19, 2012
Time to move on after grueling campaign season
Nobody likes a presidential election campaign better than I do. But this one darn near took a piece out of me.
- Monday, November 5, 2012
One nasty hurricane more than enough for one lifetime
Hey, Sandy! Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
- Monday, October 22, 2012
Latter-day stunt men still knew how to thrill
What is it with all these crazy stuntmen all of a sudden?
- Monday, October 8, 2012
Andy Williams, last of the great crooners
When singer Andy Williams died a week ago, it truly was an end of an era.
- Monday, September 24, 2012
Senator's farm was all I imagined
Many years ago, when I first arrived in Oneonta, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the senior senator from New York state. His top aide, Ross Frommer, used to come into the radio station for interviews and to tell my audience about the various legislative efforts involving "their senator."
- Upstate theme parks offered affordable thrills