Friday, December 26, 2008

Legendobit: Eartha Kitt

The not-quite-irony of a woman who recorded Santa Baby dying on Christmas Day was, sadly, not lost on any news network, all of whom used it as a hook for their obituaries of Eartha Kitt. Kitt lost her fight against cancer yesterday.

Born out of wedlock in 1927 - when such things mattered - into a poor family, Kitt turned an inauspicious start into a sixty year career, setting a template of singing and acting that would eventually invent Streisand, Turner and Middler, amongst others.

Although she was already established as a singer by the end of the Second World War, and with a debut album released in 1953, it was during the 1960s that she really cemented her position. Playing Catwoman in the TV Batman, and earning herself a blacklisting for condemning the Vietnam War. If she upset the right during the 60s, it was the left who would scold her in 1974, when she toured apartheid South Africa. Kitt's argument was that she was raising awareness, which at least sounded more plausible than when Queen, say, tried to justify their bumper pay days in the same manner.

It would be dance music - and the passage of time - which would eventually reclaim Kitt from the mire of political boycottage and start to buff her yup into something approaching national treasure. The combination of faux animal skin and kittenesque purr gave her a trademark identity, and a willingness to work hard past the point where many might have plumped for retirement ensured she sealed her position as a solid-gold legend.

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