Dead, Eartha Mae Kitt on December 25, 2008 at the age of 81, she was an American actress, singer, cabaret star, dancer, stand-up comedian, activist and voice artist, known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 recordings of “C’est Si Bon” and the enduring Christmas novelty smash “Santa Baby”, which were both US Top 10 hits.
Born Eartha Mae Keith on a cotton plantation near the small town of North, in Orangeburg County South Carolina on January 17, 1927, she was raised by Anna Mae Riley, a black woman whom she believed to be her mother.
When she was eight, Anna Mae went to live with a black man, but he refused to accept Kitt because of her relatively pale complexion, so the girl lived with another family until Riley’s death.
She was then sent to live in New York City with Mamie Kitt. She had no knowledge of her father, except that his surname was Kitt and that he was supposedly a son of the owner of the farm where she had been born.
In 1954, 20th Century Fox filmed a version of the revue entitled New Faces, in which she performed “Monotonous,” “Uska Dara,” and “C’est Si Bon.”
Though it is often alleged that Welles and Kitt had an affair during her 1957 run in Shinbone Alley, Kitt categorically denied this in a June 2001 interview with George Wayne of Vanity Fair, “I never had sex with Orson Welles,” Kitt told Vanity Fair: “It was a working situation and nothing else.”
Her other films in the 1950s included Mark of the Hawk (1957), St. Louis Blues (1958) and Anna Lucasta (1959).
In 1984, she returned to the music charts with a disco song titled “Where Is My Man,” the first certified gold record of her career.
“Where Is My Man” reached the Top 40 on the UK Singles Chart, where it peaked at No. 36; the song also made the Top 10 on the US Billboard dance chart, where it reached No. 7. The single was followed by the album I Love Men on the Record Shack label.
Kitt found new audiences in nightclubs across the UK and the US, including a whole new generation of gay male fans, and she responded by frequently giving benefit performances in support of HIV/AIDS organizations.
Kitt appeared with Jimmy James and George Burns at a fundraiser in 1990 produced by Scott Sherman, agent from the Atlantic Entertainment Group. It was arranged that James would impersonate Kitt and then Kitt would walk out to take the microphone. This was met with a standing ovation.
Her 1989 follow-up hit “Cha-Cha Heels” (featuring Bronski Beat), which was originally intended to be recorded by Divine, received a positive response from UK dance clubs and reached No. 32 in the charts in that country.
Throughout her adult life, Kitt had a tremendous work ethic.
She kept up a busy work schedule well into her 70s. In 2000, Kitt netted a Tony Award nomination for her work in The Wild Party with Toni Collette.
She picked up a Daytime Emmy Award for her vocal performance on the animated children’s series The Emperor’s New School that same year, and again in 2007.