Kate Smith was born in Greenville, Virginia. Smith began recording in 1926. Her professional musical career began in 1930, when she was discovered by Columbia Records vice president Ted Collins, who became her longtime manager in 50-50 partnership. She later credited Collins with helping her overcome her self-consciousness, writing, "Ted Collins was the first man who regarded me as a singer, and didn't even seem to notice that I was a big girl." She noted, "I'm big, and I sing, and boy, when I sing, I sing all over!"
Collins put her on radio in 1931. That year, she performed the controversial top twenty song of 1931, "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me." Her biggest hits were "River, Stay 'Way From My Door" (1931), "The Woodpecker Song" (1940), "The White Cliffs of Dover" (1941), "Rose O'Day" (1941), "Last Time I saw Paris" (1942), "I Don't Want to Walk Without You" (1942), "There Goes That Song Again" (1944), "Seems Like Old Times" (1946), and "Now Is the Hour" (1947). Her theme song was "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain"; she had helped write the lyrics. Smith greeted her audience with "Hello, everybody!" and signed off with "Thanks for listenin'."
In 1932, Smith appeared in 1932 in Hello Everybody!, with co-stars Randolph Scott and Sally Blane, and in the 1943 wartime movie This is the Army she sang "God Bless America".