Every February, we are reminded of the contributions that black Americans have made to the United States and the world. We learn about people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, people who most definitely deserve recognition and praise. However, sometimes I feel that I am missing a portion of history, or that I am not learning everything that I can.
So, I’ve decided that this Black History Month I will take the time to read up on names and events that I hear in passing. I’ll look into the lives of black figures whose names I’ve always known, but not necessarily understood. This week I’m sharing the information I’ve compiled on one such person, Eartha Kitt.
Eartha Mae Kitt had a thriving career as a singer and actress until her death in 2008. The first thing I ever learned about her was that she sang the original version of “Santa Baby”. Madonna recorded her own version later, but many agree that Eartha’s distinct voice added something more to the song. She sang in ten languages, and became popular in the states and around the world.
Speaking of her voice, Eartha provided her voice for animated characters, the most memorable being the villain Yzma from The Emporer’s New Groove. She also has a starring role in the 2003 Disney film Holes . I saw this movie in theaters as a kid, and it was also one of my first introductions to Eartha Kitt. Her most memorable acting role was the feline villain Catwoman in the 1960s TV program Batman. Her portrayal of the character (down to the trademark purr) has turned the role into a pop culture staple.
I found so many other interesting things about Eartha that don’t include her talents. Because of her mixed-race status, she was not accepted by her community, and faced abuse and abandonment by family members. In 1968, she was invited to a luncheon at the White House, where she criticized the Vietnam War. This essentially blacklisted her in Hollywood, and it took years for her to return to performing in the United States.
I’m glad I decided to become more familiar with Eartha Kitt and her life. She was a beautiful,talented woman who did not let her troubled past or black identity keep her from achieving great things. I know there are many other black Americans with extraordinary lives, and I can’t wait to put some time aside to learn about them, as well.