Eartha Kitt, born Eartha Mae Keith on January 17, 1927 in South Carolina was an American singer and dancer who became an international star. She was noted for her sultry vocal style and slinky beauty and achieved success as a dramatic stage and film actress. Ms. Kitt was ostracized at an early age because of her mixed-race heritage. At eight years old, she was given away by her mother and sent from the South Carolina cotton fields to live with an aunt in Harlem. On a friend’s dare, she auditioned for the “Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe” and won a spot as a featured dancer and vocalist and at 16 she toured the United States, Mexico, South America, and Europe with the troupe. When the Dunham company returned to the United States, the multilingual Kitt stayed in Paris, where she won immediate popularity as a nightclub singer.
She made her acting debut as Helen of Troy in Time Runs, an Orson Welles adaptation of Faust, in 1950. Kitt became a star with her appearance in the Broadway revue Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952. Broadway stardom led to a recording contract and a succession of best-selling records including “Love for Sale”, “I Want to Be Evil”, “Santa Baby” and “Folk Tales of the Tribes of Africa”, which earned her a Grammy nomination. She distinguished herself in film, theater, cabaret, music and on television. Ms. Kitt was one of only a handful of performers to be nominated for a Tony (three times), the Grammy (twice), and Emmy Award (twice). She regularly enthralled New York nightclub audiences during her extended stays at The Cafè Carlyle. Singing in ten different languages, Miss Kitt performed in over 100 countries and was honored with a star on “The Hollywood Walk of Fame” in 1960. In 1967, Ms. Kitt made an indelible mark on pop culture as the infamous “Catwoman” in the television series, “Batman.” She immediately became synonymous with the role and her trademark growl became imitated worldwide.
After she publicly criticized the Vietnam War at a 1968 White House luncheon in the presence of the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Kitt’s career went into a tailspin For years afterward, Ms. Kitt was blacklisted in the U.S. and was forced to work abroad where her status remained undiminished. National news agencies reported that she was the victim of U.S. Secret Service surveillance.
The seventies saw Kitt make a brilliant comeback! In 1974, Ms. Kitt returned to the United States, with a triumphant Carnegie Hall concert followed by a starring role in the Broadway hit musical Timbuktu! (1978), a remake of Kismet featuring an all-black cast. Live theater was Miss Kitt’s passion and in 2001, Broadway critics singled her out with a Tony and Drama Desk nomination for her role as Dolores in George Wolfe’s The Wild Party. She starred in National Tours of The Wizard Of Oz and Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. In December 2003, Ms. Kitt dazzled Broadway audiences as Liliane Le Fleur in the revival of Nine, The Musical. In December 2004, she appeared as The Fairy Godmother in The New York City Opera production (Lincoln Center) of Cinderella.
Ms. Kitt’s distinctive voice enchanted an entirely new generation of fans. Young fans loved her as YZMA, the villain, in Disney’s animated feature “The Emperor’s New Groove”, (2001 Annie Award for Best Vocal Performance / Animated Feature). Ms. Kitt was also featured in the sequel, “The Emperor’s New Groove II” and reprised the role in the Saturday morning animated series “The Emperor’s New School” for which she received a 2007 and 2008 Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program and a 2007 and 2008 Annie Award for Best Vocal Performance in an Animated Television Production.
In addition to her success in music, theater, film and television Ms. Kitt has penned several books, Thursday’s Child (1956), Alone with Me (1976), I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten (1989) and her best-selling book on fitness and positive attitude, “Rejuvenate! (It’s Never Too Late” (2001).
On January 17 2007, Ms. Kitt held a celebratory concert in honor of her 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall with a, JVC Jazz called “Eartha Kitt And Friends.” In February 2007, Ms. Kitt returned to London after a 15 year absence for a remarkable series of sold-out performances at The Shaw Theater. She returned to Great Britain in 2008 to critical raves at London‚ Äôs Place Pigalle and to headline the prestigious Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
Eartha Kitt died on December 25, 2008 and is survived by her daughter, Kitt Shapiro, and four grandchildren. Her outstanding vocals, along with her curvaceous frame, will forever be cherished for generations to come.
(Taken from Wikipedia, SimplyEartha.com, & Biography.com)
Kittsville Youth Foundation Dance & Cultural Arts Program is fiscally sponsored by ART ACTIVE, INC. , a 501 (c) (3) organization incorporated by the State of California.