***This guest post, about the late and great Eartha Kitt, is brought to you by Anthony Carter. You can read more of his work at: www.Anthony-Carter.com***
When I talked with Eartha after her fabulous show, I was tongue tied.
When I witnessed her magic in person, at 78 years old ( feisty, naughty, still doing back bends, rocking a dress with side splits to her waist and driving men crazy) I thought to myself: This is what great art is made to do and this is what great artists can and must do. Still doing two shows nightly and singing in six languages for weeks on end, truly floored me. Watching her work was a study in viewing perfection and a person highly comfortable with themselves. This is something we should all aspire to.
My love affair with the fantabuolus Eartha, and the only Cat Woman that mattered, began early. At seven, much to my father’s embarrassment, I enjoyed purring like the odd woman on Batman. There was something supremely divine and enchanting about this creature.
Long before I knew what power was, and how to yield it, I watched her reduce men to piles of goo with a sigh, an exagerrated expression or a chuckle that said: “You adore me, don’t you?” My desire to dream and do things can be tied to this exceptional human who continued to defy odds and recreate herself and place in society, even though she was told early and often that there was no place for her.
As a kid growing up and well into my 20’s, I knew very little of her contributions to the world of performing arts or her struggle for civil rights and personal and artistic freedom. Many years of hearing that purr and watching her sensual energy let me dismiss her as just a sexy enchantress. But she was that and so much more.
While we like the persona she created, but there is much more to share in regards to her outspokenness, risk-taking, and then being punished for it all. As a gay black artist, I am also taken to task for not doing what black artists are expected to do. Even though no one has ever explained these expectations to me.
Ms.Eartha taught me to dream and to push beyond what everyone, myself included, thinks is possible and go for more.
After devouring not one but two books about her fascinating life, it was apparent to me that she had a life worth imitating and that she was often lauded and seldom understood. Breaking through color barriers and performing on Broadway and in New York City cabarets, she forced the world to rethink what was possible for a female artist of color to achieve. Whether performing in New Faces on Broadway, an extended engagement in a NYC Nightclub or fending off Orson Welles in the back of a taxi, Ms. Eartha was bad to the bone and handled her business before any of us had business of our own to handle.
Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day of 2008, at the age of 81.