7 Influential Women: Eartha Kitt

 

      Eartha Kitt. Singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, author, activist and one of my many female idols. Kitt’s unapologetic attitude always oozed confidence and spunk, her voice was definitely memorable throughout my childhood and ,unbeknownst to me, her passion for universal love and justice is one of the many things I respect about her life.

    Born Eartha Mae Keith, January 17, 1927, near the small town of St. Matthews North Carolina, she grew up on a cotton plantation with her mother of Cherokee and African descent and was repeatedly abused by her mother’s then boyfriend, who refused to accept her due to her complexion among many other relatives. She then moved to Harlem, New York City, where after attending the “Metropolitan Vocational High School”, she started her debut in entertainment.

     In 1943 up until 1948, she was a member of the Katherine Dunham Company, an ensemble of dancers, actors, musicians, and singers, becoming the first African-American  dance company. Throughout the 1950s, Kitt delved into singing, her knowledge of a number of languages including French, German and Dutch she released a variety of songs;most famously “Santa Baby”, released in 1953. She moved onto Broadway projects and eventually film and television starring as “Catwoman” in the 1960’s series Batman with fellow live-action/voice actor Adam West and Burt Ward.

However, her career took a negative turn when she criticized the Johnson presidency and their national  view on the Vietnam War stating, “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” Her comment, at the time, made Washington Post headlines, and was reported to have offended the First Lady, led to her being blacklisted from the White House and CIA dossier into Kitt’s background were to be published. Kitt’s fellow actors and venues refused to support her performances; being another black woman and citizen that received negativity from voicing their political opinion.

Forced to work internationally, Kitt continued to perform for live audiences, cabarets, concert halls, and more Broadway projects. She recieved many nominations from Tony Award, Grammy's and an Emmy Award eventually earning one in 2007 and 2008 for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program and an Annie Award for Best Vocal Performance in an Animated Television Performance for her role as "Yzma", the sinister villainous in the animated movie and television series, "The Emporer's New Groove". By the end of her career, Kitt was welcomed back to the White House, under President Jimmy Carter, and while in D.C. she supported underprivileged youth and became a member of the Woman's International League for Freedom and Peace, as well a s being an outspoken ally for the LGBTplus community. Kitt passed away December 25, 2008 due to complications from colon cancer, leaving behind her daughter Kitt McDonald whom she had in 1961 to her former husband Bill McDonald. 

One thing I love about Kitt and something I believe truly defined what her fullfillment of life, is an interview she did about her take on love and compromise: "I fall in love with myself. And I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me, with me."