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G&B: Apologies to Sting

It's been a blast, folks. The Worlds Most Popular Podcast is signing off. Truth to be told, there's not enough hours in the day for ...

Friday, December 26, 2008

rip eartha kitt

More of the touching Time Magazine obit can be found here.

Something in a young chanteuse from South Carolina saw the genius in changing her name ever so slightly. Eartha Mae Keith became Eartha Kitt — discarding an ordinary surname for one of inspired felinity. It heralded the sex kitten who purred the lyrics to her lightly naughty hit singles of the early '50s; whose sophisticated persona in films and on Broadway barely concealed her claws; and who would achieve camp renown as the prowling, growling Catwoman on the '60s Batman TV series.

But Kitt's persevering through a life that began hard and was never less than challenging — her ability to thrive in good times and survive all the other times — demanded the strength and resilience of a creature sturdier than a house cat. A tiger, perhaps. When she died on Dec. 25 at 81 in Connecticut, she had been enticing and educating the public for more than 60 years. Kitt succumbed to colon cancer on Christmas day, just as thousands, perhaps millions of old-timers were playing some Yuletide CD containing her seasonal ode to seduction, Santa Baby. (See TIME's Top 10 Songs of 2008.)

She rose to celebrity from the direst of circumstances. Born in South Carolina, in 1927, the spawn of an African-American and Cherokee woman who had been raped by the white owner of a plantation, Eartha Mae was jettisoned by her mother at eight. Sent to an aunt in Harlem, she quit school at 15 and lived for a time in subways — an all-too-familiar blueprint for emotional disintegration.

But she had an ambition that lusted for limelight and the talent to fill it. In the mid-'40s she landed a spot in the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe, touring the world with this famous company of black female dancers and soon ascending to featured roles. In Paris, a nightclub owner offered her a singing job, which brought her European fame and a sheaf of sexy French ballads. (Her repertoire would eventually comprise songs in 10 languages.)