Eartha Mae Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008) was an American singer, actress, dancer and cabaret star. She was perhaps best known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 hit recordings of "C'est Si Bon" and the enduring Christmas novelty smash "Santa Baby". Orson Welles once called her the "most exciting woman in the world". She took over the role of Catwoman for the third and final season of the 1960s Batman television series, replacing Julie Newmar, who was unavailable due to other commitments. She also voiced Yzma on Disney's The Emperor's New Groove and its television spinoff, The Emperor's New School, earning five Emmy Awards in the process, the last shortly before her death.
Kitt's mother was Black Indian with Cherokee ancestry, and her father was European-American. She was born on a cotton farm in tiny North, South Carolina, but joked about the fact that many audiences assumed her to be from somewhere more exotic.
After winning a scholarship to the Katherine Dunham Dance School, she began to tour with the group and achieved her first professional success. As a member of the troupe, the sixteen year old Kitt toured in Mexico, Europe and South America as well as the U.S. Choosing to stay in Paris, she began to sing in nightclubs. Subsequently, Kitt became known as a singer and actress as well as a dancer. In 1950 she began her acting career as Helen of Troy in an Orson Welles production entitled Time Runs. In 1952 she starred in a Broadway musical, New Faces of 1952.
She recorded a number of successful songs in the early 1950s as well, having released her debut album RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt which climbed to number five in the charts. A string a hits followed in her distrinctive gravelly voice including 'Under the Bridges of Paris' and 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy' and she sealed her exotic reputation by releasing another hit album sung entirely in French.
Kitt continued to act in both theater and on film, and to perform in nightclubs. Unwilling to contribute to the discrimination rampant in American society, Kitt decided that she would not perform before segregated audiences and included that requirement in her contracts. She appeared in several films, including St. Louis Blues in 1958 and Anna Lucasta in 1959. In the 1960s she played the role of Catwoman on the Batman television show. Kitt had seemingly achieved the American dream, and was a success in show business.
Her career took a different turn after she spoke out against the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon in 1968 in the presence of Lady Bird Johnson. As a result of her outspoken anti-war position, she was blackballed and was unable to find work in the U.S., with the exception of a few talk shows. Contracts were lost or cancelled. The CIA developed a file containing personal and professional information. Eartha moved to Europe, where she lived and worked for the next ten years, struggling financially and ignored by many friends. Kitt has said she would have spoken out even if she had known the consequences.
Unafraid of controversy, Kitt performed in South Africa in 1974. Heavily criticized, she responded by pointing out that she had
managed to get two schools built there for black children. She had raised the money by selling autographs at department stores. Traveling around the country and performing in an integrated show, Kitt felt she did a little to weaken the apartheid system and raise awareness among South Africans of all colors.
In 1978 she was nominated for a Tony award for her starring performance in another Broadway show, Timbuktu. It was her first major performance in the U.S. in ten years. When the show opened in Washington, D.C., Kitt was invited to the White House, where President Carter met her, saying, "Welcome home, Eartha." The show was a success and ran for two and a half years.
In 1984, she returned to hit music with a disco song, Where Is My Man (UK # 34); the first certified Gold record of her career. Kitt found new audiences in nightclubs across the country, including a whole new generation of gay male fans, and she responded by frequently giving benefit performances in support of HIV/AIDS organizations. Her 1989 follow-up hit "Cha-Cha Heels" (featuring Bronski Beat) received a positive response from UK dance clubs and reached #32 in the UK charts.
In recent years, Kitt's annual appearances in New York made her a fixture of the Manhattan cabaret scene. She took the stage at venues such as The Ballroom and the Café Carlyle to explore and define her highly stylized image. From October to early December, 2006, Kitt co-starred in the Off-Broadway musical Mimi Le Duck. She also appeared in the 2007 independent film And Then Came Love opposite Vanessa Williams. Kitt was the spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics' Smoke Signals collection in August 2007. She re-recorded "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" for the occasion, was showcased on the MAC website, and the song was played at all MAC locations carrying the collection for the month.
She lived for many years in Pound Ridge, NY, but moved to Connecticut to be near her daughter's family. Her final concert performance came in October 2008, with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Kitt died from colon cancer on Christmas Day, December 25, 2008, at her home in Weston, Connecticut (info edited from Wikipedia and usca.edu)
Eartha Kitt - Just An Old Fashioned Girl (Live Kaskad 1962)