Eartha Kitt Biography

17 January 1927, Columbia, South Carolina, USA. The daughter of a white dirt farmer and a black Cherokee mother, Kitt was born in the cotton fields of South Carolina. After being given away by her mother she was raised in Harlem, where after a period of struggle she ended up attending the High School for Performing Arts. She later joined Katherine Dunham’s famed dancing troupe. At the end of a European tour Kitt decided to stay behind, taking up residence in Paris. Having added singing to her repertoire, she was a success and on her return to New York appeared at several leading nightclubs. She appeared on Broadway in New Faces Of 1952 introducing ‘Monotonous’, and was later seen more widely in the film version of the show. Her other Broadway shows around this time included Mrs. Patterson (1954) and shinbone alley (1957). She continued to work in cabaret, theatre and television, singing in her uniquely accented manner and slinkily draping herself across any available object, animate or otherwise. She made a few more films over the years, playing a leading role in St. Louis Blues (1958), with Nat ‘King’ Cole, and in an all-black version of Anna Lucasta (1958), opposite Sammy Davis Jnr.

Although her highly mannered presentation of songs is best seen rather than merely heard, Kitt has made some songs virtually her own property, among them ‘I Want To Be Evil’, ‘An Englishman Needs Time’, ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘I’m Just An Old-Fashioned Girl’, a claim which is patently untrue. Her other record successes over the years have included ‘Uska Dara - A Turkish Tale’, ‘C’est Si Bon’, ‘Somebody Bad Stole De Wedding Bell’, ‘Lovin’ Spree’, ‘Under The Bridges Of Paris’, ‘Where Is My Man’, ‘I Love Men’ and ‘This Is My Life’.

In 1978, Kitt appeared on Broadway with Gilbert Wright and Melba Moore in an all-black version of Kismet entitled Timbuktu. Her career continued along similar lines on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the 80s and into the 90s, although she was courted by a much younger audience (witness her collaboration on ‘Cha Cha Heels’ with Bronski Beat in 1989) who were suitably impressed by her irreverent coolness. In 1988, Kitt played the role of Carlotta Campion in the London production of Follies and sang Stephen Sondheim’s legendary anthem to survival, ‘I’m Still Here’, which, appropriately, became the title of one of her volumes of autobiography.

In the early 90s Kitt performed her one-woman show in London and New York and appeared as a witch in the comedy/horror movieErnest Scared Stupid. She also toured Britain with the Ink Spots in the revue A Night At The Cotton Club. In 1993 Kitt appeared in cabaret at several international venues, including London’s Café Royal, and in the following year she played the role of Molly Bloom, the heroine of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, in ‘an erotic monologue punctuated with songs by the French crooner, Charles Aznavour’, which proved to be a cult hit at the Edinburgh Festival. The indefatigable Kitt remains in-demand in Hollywood, and in 2000 provided the voice for Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove. Kitt continued to work into her 80s, and the singer of "Santa Baby," died of cancer fittingly enough on Christmas day in 2008.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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