Eartha Mae Keith, popularly known as Eartha Kitt, was an American singer, actress, comedian, dancer, and activist who was born on January 17, 1927. She is known for her highly distinctive voice and her 1953 recordings of ‘C’est si bon’ and the Christmas novelty song ‘Santa Baby.’ She was dubbed the “most interesting woman in the world” by Orson Welles. Kitt began her career in 1942 and made her Broadway debut in 1945 with the original Broadway production of ‘Carib Song.’ She had six Top 30 hits in the United States in the early 1950s, including ‘Uska Dara’ and ‘I Want to Be Evil.’ Today is her big day, and we are overjoyed!
Eartha Mae Keith
January 17, 1927
December 25, 2008 (age 81)
Eartha Mae Keith was born in North or St. Matthews, South Carolina, on January 17, 1927. Annie Mae Keith, her mother, was of Cherokee and African ancestry and worked on a cotton plantation. Keith is thought to have been born out of wedlock and had a rough upbringing. Her mother abandoned her to live with her aunt and her lover. Keith was taken to another family in New York City when her mother died.
Keith began her singing career with the Katherine Dunham Company in 1943. Her distinctive voice made her a prominent and well-liked vocalist in Paris nightclubs. She had prominent roles in films such as “New Faces” (1954) and “Anna Lucasta” (1955). She also appeared in Broadway productions like “Shinbone Alley” (1970) and “Jolly’s Progress” (1959). Keith played Catwoman in the American T.V. series “Batman” in 1967. Keith spoke out against the Vietnam War while attending an organized luncheon at the White House. The officials were unhappy about this, and she struggled to find work in the United States after that. Keith concentrated on her performances in Europe and Asia in the 1970s. She had a lead role in the Blaxploitation film “Friday Foster” in 1975. Keith had a big comeback on Broadway in 1978 with the musical — “Timbuktu.” She has voiced characters in animated shows like “The Magic School Bus” and “The Wild Thornberrys.” She advocated for various social causes, including women’s empowerment and homosexual marriage acceptance. “Thursday’s Child,” “Alone with Me,” and “I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten” are her three autobiographies.
Keith’s romantic relationships were often in the headlines. She had affairs with Charles Revson, a businessman, and John Barry Ryan III, a banking heir. She married John William McDonald in 1960, and the couple had a daughter named Kitt McDonald. In 1965, the couple divorced. Keith died on December 25, 2008, at her home in Connecticut from colon cancer.
Keith starts her singing career with the Katherine Dunham Company.
Keith makes her film debut in “Casbah,” an American film noir crime musical film.
American director Orson Welles gives Keith her first starring role as "Helen of Troy" in his staging of “Dr. Faustus.”
Keith releases “That Bad Eartha,” a twelve-song EP album.
Keith becomes the proud owner of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Keith wins Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for “The Emperor’s New School.”
Why We Love Eartha Kitt
She appreciated her fans
Keith was a black woman, but she didn't feel like she belonged only to the black community because her fans were so diverse, and they were the ones who helped her become so popular. Keith felt a part of the broader community in this light, and she relished belonging to everyone equally, not just a portion of it.
Her success story is inspiring
Keith's career began by pure chance. She once assisted a woman who was seeking directions. This woman turned out to be a dancer with the Katherine Dunham Company, and she encouraged Keith to apply. She took her advice and not only passed the audition but also received a full scholarship to the dance academy, which she used to tour Europe and South America.
She was an activist
She was a lifelong political activist who spent most of the 1960s working for social reform. She started a non-profit organization and was the founder of the 'Rebels with a Cause' youth group in Washington, D.C. She worked tirelessly to aid underprivileged kids.
5 Surprising Facts
Her birth date was a mystery
It was only in 1998 that a group of students from her hometown discovered the document revealing her age.
She passed away on Christmas Day
Keith passed on just a month ahead of her 82nd birthday, it’s sad especially since she contributed to the holiday with a song many people still appreciate.
She was close to James Dean
In some ways, the two were like brother and sister, and they admired each other and remained close throughout their careers.
She was sort of exiled
The U.S. government misinterpreted her anti-war comments and she faced tremendous backlash, forcing Keith to flee the nation for over a decade.
Cyrano De Bergerac inspired her career path
Keith fell in love with the wild applause and desperately wanted fans to adore her in a way she’d never felt.
Eartha Kitt FAQs
How did Eartha Kitt learn French?
She performed in nightclubs in Paris, which made her learn French quickly and gain French fans.
Did Eartha Kitt speak five languages?
She spoke four languages; German, Dutch, English, and French, and sang in eleven languages.
How old was Eartha Kitt when she became a mum?
She was 34 years old.
Eartha Kitt’s birthday dates