Friday, December 26, 2008

Tribute to Eartha Kitt (1927-2008)

In a year that saw the passing of many great creative giants none compare to the amazing singer, dancer, actress Eartha Kitt. I've been trying to visit her official web site but the server is temporarily down from the spike in activity. She was not only an great entertainer, but she was conscious of her image, spoke out against injustice, was politically active when it was not always prudent to do so and set an example as someone who overcame a miserable childhood. 

She was sexy in a classy way and owned her femininity. You could just tell that she felt comfortable in her own skin. I can't even recall a performance or interview where she raised her voice or behaved in a vulgar way. She knew how to charm people and be engaging. Here's an interview on the Today show from 2006 (skip to 1:35 for less banter).

Known for her trademark growl she created opportunities for her to thrive despite the numerous obstacles and personal disappointments. I'd read her third autobiography, "I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten" where she spoke of being able to audition directly for the talent gatekeepers of the time. She didn't limit herself to the assigned roles of a Black person's 'place' in society at that time. Her contemporaries were also glamorous and well-heeled: ladies like Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge but she created her own niche. 


She travelled and worked in Europe after facing a career threat for her anti-war efforts. She also wrote a book on fitness, titled "Rejuvenate". One thing that struck me was despite feelings of inadequacy based on the rejection by her parents or being rebuffed by the families of some of the white men she'd dated and other disappointments she still forged ahead positively when a lot of people would've been mired in their misery.

She married, had children and grandchildren and continued to work, making her own destiny in an industry that hasn't exactly persisted in positive images of Black women. She was very upfront about being the product of a rape but she didn't dwell on it publicly. I sense the media likes to make victims out of Black women and she was a survivor and thriver, not the tragic mullato story some would seem to prefer. She was probably best known for her rendition of "Santa Baby", playing Catwoman on the Batman tv series from the 1960's and for later audiences as the cosmetics owner with thing for Eddie Murphy in Boomerang. The one thing she had an abundance of was talent which is fast becoming a rarity amongst entertainers of any genre. 
One of her last interviews from earlier this year in the Times UK she said, “I have never thought of myself as a race. I have always thought of myself as a communicator who has no race.” 

Notable quotes from a live blog interview with the Washington Post from 2005: 

"I'm sorry to say this, but you don't need that much talent to get into show business these days. Today it's more what you look like rather than what you have to offer." 

"I think this is one of the things that we in the western world -- especially in the United States, it seems to me -- do not have enough interest in other cultures in order for us to understand and appreciate the differences rather than fight the differences or try to oppress the differences. Like we've always said, no matter what religious leader comes along, learn to live with one another and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We don't live by The Ten Commandments it seems." 

"I was always interested in learning how to speak properly so that once you learn how to speak the language properly you can fall into any area of the language that is called for as a character"

From "Santa Baby", to "C'est Si Bon", to "I Want to Evil" she has amassed a legacy of memorable performances. She had a resurgence of popularity with the under 40 crowd a few years back and I am so glad I went to see her cabaret show. Seeing her and Nina Simone during her last tour was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Brava to a real diva!! 

Here's a great mix of tv and movie clips set to her rendition of "I'd Rather Be Burned As A Witch". May you rest in peace.

photos via Google search
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aann4950 said...

Great Clip and I am goint to pass this one one.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Thanks - and check out the Batman episodes she was on via youtube! I can't believe it was just three. I remember watching reruns as a kid but watching them now I am even more in awe of her. She was a great actress. It was her preferred genre.