Eartha Kitt

Until this week, I had never heard of Eartha Kitt. Now I have, it’s hard to imagine how I could have missed such an un-ignorable personality.

In case you are in the same state of innocence as I was, here’s a song to get you started. Remember this is a mixed-race woman performing for mid-century Middle America:

There is a lot of Kitt in here. The clawing matches her years as a stage performer, but also foreshadows her stint as Catwoman 15 years later. And yet she is also very clearly the lazy rich girl playing at being bad.

Kitt came from just about the most deprived background you could imagine. Beyond pure talent, it is her supreme confidence that pulled her out and catapulted her into international stardom.

That and hard work. Years of gruelling stage performances, night after night, interspersed with recording and travel and television and film. I’m exhausted just looking at it

Above all, I love her take-no-prisoners attitude to the world. It caused her most trouble in 1968, when she was invited to the White House for a discussion of crime. She made the entirely reasonable point that young men had less incentive to behave when they were being “snatched off to be shot in Vietnam”. The First Lady was horrified, and Kitt’s American career stalled for the next decade. But she never backed down, and throughout her life was active in support of civil and LGBT rights

More on Eartha Kitt:

  • Vice runs through her biography in more detail
  • Seymour Hersh writes about the CIA file on her

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