Eartha Kitt

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Eartha Kitt

 

Eartha Kitt was paid $10.00 per week to study Dunham Technique

Eartha Kitt was born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation in North, a small town in Orangeburg County near Columbia, South Carolina, in 1927.   Kitt’s mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent. Though it remains unconfirmed, it has been widely reported that her father was of German descent.

Eartha Kitt was raised by Anna Mae Riley, an African-American woman whom she believed to be her mother. When Eartha was 8, Anna Mae went to live with a black man, but he refused to accept Kitt because of her relatively pale complexion, so the girl lived with another family until Riley’s death. She was then sent to live in New York City with Mamie Kitt, who she learned was her biological mother.  She had no knowledge of her father, except that his surname was Kitt and that he was supposedly a son of the owner of the farm where she had been born.  Newspaper obituaries state that her white father was “a poor cotton farmer”.  In an August 2013 biography, British journalist John Williams claimed that Kitt’s father was a white man, a local doctor named Daniel Sturkie. However, Kitt’s daughter, Kitt Shapiro, has questioned the authenticity of this claim.

Kitt began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company in 1943 and remained a member of the troupe until 1948. A talented singer with a distinctive voice, she recorded the hits “Let’s Do It”; “Champagne Taste”; “C’est si bon” (which Stan Freberg famously burlesqued); “Just an Old Fashioned Girl”; “Monotonous”; “Je cherche un homme”; “Love for Sale”; “I’d Rather Be Burned as a Witch”; “Katibim” (a Turkish melody) ; “Mink, Schmink”; “Under the Bridges of Paris”; and her most recognizable hit, “Santa Baby”, which was released in 1953. Kitt’s unique style was enhanced as she became fluent in the French language during her years performing in Europe. Her English-speaking performances always seemed to be enriched by a soft French feel. She spoke four languages and sang in seven, which she effortlessly demonstrated in many of the live recordings of her cabaret performances.

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