Today we remember the great presence of screen and stage, Eartha Kitt, who died this last Thursday on Christmas Day of colon cancer. She was 81.
Many remembrances that have been released since Eartha’s passing have offered a wonderful list of her accomplishments and talents. Singer, dancer, star of movies and television including her role as Catwoman on the ’60’s television show Batman, and her legendary recording of Santa Baby. They’ve made note of her sizzling personality on and off stage, be it her vocal come-ons in nightclub performances, or her relationships with the like of Orson Wells who described her as “the most exciting woman alive”. We’ve read about charts, awards, and her difficult childhood, struggling in poverty until her break came at age 16 when she won a dance scholarship after an audition with Katherine Dunham’s dance school.
In this case, as I feel it is typically appropriate when remembering someone who has passed, I would like to share my personal account with the great Eartha Kitt.
As student of jazz, but also a person under the age of thirty, I’m often told that I missed out on truly experiencing performances of those who made their musical careers in the ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s. As a consequence, I’m simply limited to their recordings, or at best, live performances of these artists today well past their prime.
I had the pleasure of meeting Eartha Kitt a few years ago on Valentine’s Day when I was invited to emcee her show at Jazz Alley in Seattle. Tragically, I was not what you would have called an Eartha Kitt fan. I didn’t own any of her records, and couldn’t tell you much more about her other than the previously noted Santa Baby recording and her run on Batman. In preparation for the concert I did my research and prepared my notes, but no matter how impressed I became with her biography, what I saw and what I heard was nothing that I could have imagined from a then 78 year old woman.
I was on a first date, or was soon to be, as my date was running late. She had missed my entire introduction of Ms. Kitt, which disappointed me, as I thought it might impress her to see me up on stage introducing a legend. Truthfully I was far more excited for the mere fact that I had a Valentine rather than being at the show.
The attitude quickly changed. Eartha, in her late 70’s, needed no assistance finding her way on stage. Far from it. Even after discovering she had colon cancer, she continued her regular workout regime, consisting of running and weight lifting. This, no doubt, resulting in a figure that girls in their 20’s would be jealous of. With that figure came a seductive and sexual strut, attitude, and energy to match. Her voice seemed to have not lost a step either, producing a throaty, provocative tone. She would slowly move around the stage, purring, smiling and making eye contact.
The eye contact more often than not was directed at the young men in the audience. As she seduced them, seeming speaking directly to each man she looked at, she might suggest that they introduce her to their fathers. It was a room half-filled with men, the other half filled with their Valentine dates, being entranced by a woman nearing eighty, far more focused on her than their dates. It was easy to become one of those men, as (and I say this respectfully) my date rapidly lost my attention.
Eartha Kitt was the complete package as far as entertainers went. Following her show, it became far more important for me to seek out performances that would offer a complete entertainment package rather than just a big name or current popularity. Few managed to rise to the level that Eartha did that night, no matter who I ended up seeing in concert. Eartha Kitt was a treasure and someone I was blessed to see perform live. Far from a performance past her prime, as the abilities of Eartha Kitt never seemed to deteriorate.
Watch Eartha Kitt sing Santa Baby in 2006:
Watch Eartha Kitt sing C’est Si Bon in 1962:
Watch Eartha Kitt Sing Love For Sale: