Whether it be for her unique beauty, distinctive voice, demurring songs or story of overcoming odds, Eartha Kitt was a powerhouse to be recognized. While widely slept on today, Kitt’s career spanned from her early singing days in the 1940s to 2010, when she posthumously won an Emmy for her guest star appearance on Wonder Pets!
Eartha Kitt was born on a cotton plantation in South Carolina during the 1920s. Her parentage is largely questioned, with many concluding that Kitt was the product of rape between the farm owner’s son and her mother. Despite trials placed against her at an early age, Kitt went on to land her first major role in Orson Welles’ production of Dr. Faustus, where she played Helen of Troy. The writer and director famously called her “the most exciting woman on Earth.” From there, Kitt would face a series of mounting peaks and plunging lows, including being blacklisted by the CIA.
Below are the standout moments that have securely placed Eartha Kitt in Black history.
1. She's Been Letting People Know Black Lives Matter Since The 1960s.
The Black Lives Matter movement caught significant wind in 2013 after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted by a jury. However, Eartha Kitt was an early chanter of the mantra.
While at a White House luncheon about “delinquency in America,” which is a covert way of discussing troubled minorities, Eartha Kitt turned to Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird.
“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They will take pot […] and they will get high," Kitt reportedly told the first lady. "They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers and be shot in Vietnam.”
While a radical yet fair judgment, these comments would upset Johnson, who then reportedly had her blacklisted by the CIA.
YouTube | TV One
2. She Laughs In The Face Of Compromise.
In an interview for the documentary All by Myself: The Eartha Kitt Story, the singer and actress couldn’t hold back her laughter when the interviewer asked, “If a man came into your life, wouldn’t you want to compromise?
"For what?" Kitt responded. "A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned, not to compromise for, and that love relationships. […] I think there’s nothing in the world more beautiful than falling in love. But falling in love for the right reasons, falling in love for the right purpose. […] When you fall in love, what is there to compromise about?”
YouTube | Kelly Gourdji
3. She's The Voice Of Holes' Madame Zeroni And Emperor’s New Groove's Yzma.
“But, if you forget to come back for Madame Zeroni, you and your family will be cursed for always and eternity!”
Eartha Kitt said, while in character as Madame Zeroni.
You can hear the actress’ telling voice in your head as you read the lines. While Kitt was a favorite singer of our parents and grandparents, many 20-somethings recognize the actress as Madame Zeroni in Holes and Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove. Pull the lever, Kronk!
4. Only She Can Sing "Santa Baby" And Mean It.
One of Kitt’s most famous songs is her timeless rendition of “Santa Baby.” Her seductive voice and slow crooning caught the attention of all grown and wanna-be-grown folk of the 1950s.
5. She Starred As Catwoman In Batman.
Eartha Kitt walked so Halle Berry could run. In the 1960s Batman television series, Eartha Kitt became the first Black woman to play Catwoman on television or in film. Even today, Kitt’s performance is considered one of the best portrayals of Catwoman in history.
6. She's Scored Multiple Emmy Nominations.
The marvelous Eartha Kitt held three Emmy nominations, two of which she won, including two Daytime Emmys for her performances in the animated shows The Emperor’s New School and Wonder Pets!
7. She Testified On Behalf Of Rebels With A Cause.
The Rebels With a Cause were a youth group, which aimed to keep young people off the streets by creating recreational areas in underserved communities.
When speaking on their behalf in front of the House Committee of Education and Labor, Kitt said the Rebels’ “achievements and accomplishments should certainly make the adult ‘do-gooders’ realize that these young men and women have performed in one short year – with limited finances – that which was not achieved by the same people who might object to turning over some of the duties of planning, rehabilitation and prevention of juvenile delinquents and juvenile delinquency to those who understand it and are living it.”
Kitt's passionate speech ultimately helped win the Rebels much-needed funding to continue their efforts.
8. She Stood Up For LGBTQ+ Rights.
Eartha Kitt was an intense LGBTQ+ advocate, who attended many fundraisers and events supporting the rights of the community. Her comments about her loyal gay fanbase in a 1992 interview underscores her profound sense of empathy and compassion.
“We’re all rejected people, we know what it is to be refused, we know what it is to be oppressed, depressed and then, accused, and I am very much cognizant of that feeling. Nothing in the world is more painful than rejection. I am a rejected, oppressed person and so I understand them, as best as I can, even though I am heterosexual,” Kitt reportedly once said, according to Kreol International Magazine.
9. She Allegedly "Slapped The F**k" Out Of Jackée Harry.
Now, there's clearly been significantly more trailblazing moments from Ms. Kitt but this was just too good. When a Twitter user asked a general question to the public about what their most surreal encounter with a celebrity, 227 and Sister, Sister star Jackée Harry claimed Eartha Kitt slapped “the f%#! outta me!” after the late singer discovered Harry was having an affair with her then-boyfriend.
Eartha Kitt slapped the f%#! outta me!
The details of how the encounter truthfully went down remains a mystery; unfortunately, we will never know Kitt's side of the story as the singer died prior to Harry's revelation.
As Eartha Kitt once famously said, "My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or of my opinions." In the face of controversy and adversity, the icon was the antithesis of a shrinking violet, who consistently shared her unabashed perspective and beliefs without hesitation, even when the consequences seemed mountainous. Kitt was the original bad gyal — and we stan.