Eartha Kitt has died at age 81.
Last year, I was lucky enough to get to interview Ms. Kitt for Edge Magazine. She may have played a campy Catwoman on Batman but over six decades she had nine real lives on stage, recordings, film and tv. She most endured as an indelible and influential cabaret and jazz singer.
Ms. Kitt never forgot her legions of fans in the GLBT community. In fact, she told me “I owe a lot to the gay world. When I got into trouble with the government, the gay world they kept my name alive . They kept imitating me, and bought my records… so I’m very grateful for that.“ Like a lot of gay men, her purr was on my hard drive before I had a computer.
Here is part of our interview from May 2007, a week before she appeared at an arts fundraiser at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.
A growly contralto came through my phone in May of 2007. “Yes?” This is Lew.. “Yes?….” Can I call you Eartha……..“yesss“ Forget Eartha, I was turning to stone by that devastating voice. Ms. Kitt had agreed to a phone interview with me a week before her last performance in Philadelphia. Will there be any way to journalistically capture a conversation with Eartha Kitt? Impossible from the start because it is a completely unique live experience. But that voice is so well known that everyone who has heard it and can hear it purring in their mind at will.
For me I can still summon the image of Eartha singing ‘Santa Baby,’ looking naked except for a white fox stole she held in front of her. Eartha surrounded by mirrors, every inch of her percolating as she sing the sumptuous ‘C’est Si Bon.’ Eartha telling Nat King Cole that he should play his own music in the movie ‘St. Louis Blues.’ And later, in Philadelphia, Eartha at Equus, singing in the day singing her campy disco hit. And further back. Eartha as Catwoman! Only Ms. Kitt could make everybody fall in love with her with the line ‘I want to be evil, I want to spit nails.”
Come On-A My House
“I’m sitting out here on a balcony and a veranda that looks over the Saugatuck. I have to be where water is, I have to live where I can see the water.” Kitt said quietly. Such a concrete image, Eartha on a balcony. There were so many that were swirling in my head as I was trying not to fawn.
Kitt is celebrating her 80th birthday this year and will be performing at a gala arts event honoring Pennsylvania Mayor Ed Rendell at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia May 17, then she will be appearing at Carnegie Hall and with various symphony orchestras.
She returns to the famed Carlyle Room in New York this fall, her current CD Kitt was in ‘Nine, the Musical’ on Broadway “those women were absolutely fabulous. I just finished in ‘Skin of our teeth’ and which will probably be fixed to go to Broadway with it.” A whole new generation know her through her characterizations in Disney movies.
“Now I’m going to be with the symphony in Ottawa, I’m leaving in a couple of hours. My program is varied from doing legitimate theater or it can be cut down or enlarged. What is this place that I’m coming to now?” she asked.
For her return to the Carlyle she will not be performing only her standards. “ Some of those things I’ve done there before, that what‘s on Live At The Carlyle. We’re always working on new songs, not what they are writing these days because I think those songs are not very meaningful. The business is so so so commercial for money…..I think it’s lost it’s salsa, as we say in Spanish, the soul.