Black Female Icons: Eartha Kitt!!!

26 Jan

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In this series of honouring our Black female icons, I decided to start with Eartha Kitt. I woke up this morning humming the tune of ‘ Where is my man’. It took me back to dancing days as a teenager and we used to dance to the song in our many dance competitions and shows.

So who was this fabulous woman?
Taken from Wikipedia.

Eartha Mae Kitt was an American singer, actress, dancer, activist and comedian, known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 recordings of “C’est si bon” and the enduring Christmas novelty smash “Santa Baby”, which were both US Top 10 hits. Orson Welles once called her the “most exciting woman in the world”.

Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation near the small town of North in Orangeburg County, South Carolina on January 17, 1927. Her mother Annie Mae Keith was of Cherokee and African descent.

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Kitt began her career in 1942 and appeared in the 1945 original Broadway theatre production of the musical Carib Song. In the early 1950s, she had six US Top 30 hits, including “Uska Dara” and “I Want to be Evil”. Her other notable recordings include the UK Top 10 hit “Under the Bridges of Paris” (1954), “Just an Old Fashioned Girl” (1956) and “Where Is My Man” (1983). She starred in 1967 as Catwoman, in the third and final season of the television series Batman. In 1968, her career in America suffered after she made anti-war statements at a White House luncheon, tis became known as “The White House Incident”. Kitt was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.”. During a question and answer session, Kitt stated:

The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons – and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson – we raise children and send them to war.

Her remarks reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Kitt’s career.
Following the incident, Kitt found herself unemployable, so she devoted her energies to performances in Europe and Asia. It is said that Kitt’s career in the United States was ended following her comments about the Vietnam War, after which she was branded “a sadistic nymphomaniac” by the CIA. Her government-led blacklisting was enshrined in a false and defamatory CIA dossier about Kitt discovered by Seymour Hersh in 1975. Hersh published an article about the dossier in The New York Times. The dossier contained comments about Kitts sex life, family history and negative opinions about her by former colleagues. Kitt’s response to the dossier was to say “I don’t understand what this is about. I think it’s disgusting.”

Ten years later, she made a successful return to Broadway in the 1978 original production of the musical Timbuktu!, for which she received the first of her two Tony Award nominations. Her second was for the 2000 original production of the musical The Wild Party.

In 1978, Kitt did the voice-over in a television commercial for the album Aja by the rock group Steely Dan. One of her more unusual roles was as Kaa in a 1994 BBC Radio adaptation of The Jungle Book. Kitt also lent her distinctive voice to Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove (for which she won her first Annie Award) and reprised her role in Kronk’s New Groove and The Emperor’s New School, for which she won two Emmy Awards and, in 2007–08, two more Annie Awards for Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production. Kitt had voiced Vexus in My Life as a Teenage Robot.

In 1984, she returned to the music charts with a disco song titled “Where Is My Man”, the first certified gold record of her career. “Where Is My Man” reached the Top 40 on the UK Singles Chart, where it peaked at No. 36; the song became a standard in discos and dance clubs of the time and made the Top 10 on the US Billboard dance chart, where it reached No. 7. The single was followed by the album I Love Men on the Record Shack label. Kitt found new audiences in nightclubs across the UK and the United States, including a whole new generation of gay male fans, and she responded by frequently giving benefit performances in support of HIV/AIDS organisations. Her 1989 follow-up hit “Cha-Cha Heels” (featuring Bronski Beat), which was originally intended to be recorded by Divine, received a positive response from UK dance clubs and reached No. 32 in the charts in that country.

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Kitt wrote three autobiographies—Thursday’s Child (1956), Alone with Me (1976) and I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten (1989). She also played Lady Eloise in the 1992 film Boomerang, starring Eddie Murphy. Kitt found a new generation of fans through her roles in the Disney films The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), in which she voiced the villainous Yzma, and Holes (2003). She reprised the role as Yzma in the direct-to-video sequel Kronk’s New Groove (2005), as well as the animated series The Emperor’s New School (2006–2008). Her work on the latter earned her two Daytime Emmy Awards. She posthumously won a third Emmy in 2010 for her guest performance on Wonder Pets.
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Her activism:
Kitt was active in numerous social causes in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, she established the Kittsville Youth Foundation, a chartered and non-profit organisation for underprivileged youths in the Watts area of Los Angeles. She was also involved with a group of youths in the area of Anacostia in Washington, D.C., who called themselves “Rebels with a Cause.” Kitt supported the groups’ efforts to clean up streets and establish recreation areas in an effort to keep them out of trouble by testifying with them before the House General Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor. In her testimony, in May 1967, Kitt stated that the Rebels’ “achievements and accomplishments should certainly make the adult ‘do-gooders’ realise that these young men and women have performed in 1 short year – with limited finances – that which was not achieved by the same people who might object to turning over some of the duties of planning, rehabilitation, and prevention of juvenile delinquents and juvenile delinquency to those who understand it and are living it”. She added that “the Rebels could act as a model for all urban areas throughout the United States with similar problems”. “Rebels with a Cause” subsequently received the needed funding. Kitt was also a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Like many politically active public figures of her time, Kitt was under surveillance by the CIA, beginning in 1956. After the New York Times discovered the CIA file on Kitt in 1975, she granted the paper permission to print portions of the report, stating: “I have nothing to be afraid of and I have nothing to hide.”

Kitt later became a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and publicly supported same-sex marriage, which she considered a civil right. She had been quoted as saying: “I support it gay marriage because we’re asking for the same thing. If I have a partner and something happens to me, I want that partner to enjoy the benefits of what we have reaped together. It’s a civil-rights thing, isn’t it?” Kitt famously appeared at many LGBT fundraisers, including a mega event in Baltimore, Maryland, with George Burns and Jimmy James. Scott Sherman, an agent at Atlantic Entertainment Group, stated: “Eartha Kitt is fantastic… appears at so many LGBT events in support of civil rights.” In a 1992 interview with Dr. Anthony Clare, Kitt spoke about her gay following, saying:We’re all rejected people, we know what it is to be refused, we know what it is to be oppressed, depressed, and then, accused, and I am very much cognisant of that feeling. Nothing in the world is more painful than rejection. I am a rejected, oppressed person, and so I understand them, as best as I can, even though I am a heterosexual.

Kitt died from colon cancer on Christmas Day 2008, at her home in Weston, Connecticut.

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