Eartha Kitt was a singer and actress who recorded the hit holiday song “Santa Baby”. She was born on January 17, 1927 in South Carolina to an African American mother and a white father. She was raised by Anna Mae Riley, as her biological mother had abandoned her. It wasn’t until later that she realized that her mother was actually Mamie Kitt. She never got to know her biological father though. At the age of 8, she moved to New York City. There she enrolled at the New York School of Performing Arts where she won a scholarship to study with Katherine Dunham. She later joined the Katherine Dunham Company where she performed as a singer and dancer.
Between 1943 to 1948, she toured with the group before launching her solo career. She was particularly popular in Paris, where she performed at nightclubs. During her European tours, she became fluent in French and was known to sing in 7 different languages. In Paris, Kitt met Orson Welles, a movie director who cast her as Helen of Troy in the play Dr. Faustus in 1950. Two years later, she starred in the Broadway musical “New Faces of 1952” for which she sang the songs “Monotonous”, “Uska Dara” and “C’est Si Bon”.
Her other movies during the 1950s were “Mark of the Hawk” in 1957 and “St. Louis Blues” in 1958. Her 1959 film “Anna Lucasta” won her the first and only Academy Award nomination of her career. In the 1960s, Kitt played the role of Catwoman on the television series Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Her portrayal of her character was memorable and unique. Her singing career was also very successful. Some of the biggest hits of her career include “Let’s Do It”, “Champagne Taste”, “Just an Old Fashioned Girl”, “Love for Sale”, “I’d Rather Be Burned as a Witch”, “Under the Bridges of Paris” and perhaps her most popular song, the Christmas holiday hit “Santa Baby”. She also performed on Broadway such as “Mrs. Patterson”, “Shinbone Alley” and “Jolly’s Progress”.
Kitt was known to be blunt, outspoken and short tempered. In 1968, she attended a lunch at the White House, hosted by the President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Claudia, more popularly known as Lady Bird Johnson. There she made a heated anti-war speech that angered the President as well as his wife, due to which her popularity nose-dived overnight. For several years after the incident, she mostly toured in Europe and Asia. It was a decade later, in 1978 that she regained her popularity with her Broadway performance in the musical “Timbuktu!” for which she was also nominated for a Tony Award.
In 1984, she recorded a song titled “Where Is My Man” which was her first to be certified gold. She had a huge fan following with homosexual men, and often performed at HIV/AIDS benefits. She made several television, movie and Broadway appearances, She also won Annie and Emmy Awards for voicing the character of Yzma in the animated films “The Emperor’s New Groove”, “Kronk’s New Groove” and “The Emperor’s New School”.
Kitt was married in 1960 and had a daughter named Kitt McDonald in 1961. She and her husband got divorced in 1965. She was a social activist and had established the “Kittsville Youth Foundation” to help underprivileged youth in Los Angeles. She was a peace activist, and a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She was also an active supporter of same sex marriages and supports LGBT functions and parades. She died of colon cancer in 2008 at the age of 81.