Peerless Eartha Kitt: 1928-2008

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In 1968, she dared speak out against the Vietnam War, when the war was raging at its hottest, and was both blacklisted and hounded for doing so. That's because she spoke at a photo-op at the White House in the face of First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

[Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Commentary]


For generations, the name, Eartha Kitt, was synonymous with sexy, sultry, and outspoken.

In an industry where careers can sometimes be measured in minutes, Eartha Kitt was the real thing, for quite a while; dancer, singer, actress, and on occasion, a comedian.

Since the tender age of 14, she worked the stage, and for nearly 7 decades, she left her indelible imprint by her work on the big screen, TV, and on recordings.On Jan. 26, 1928 she was born in South Carolina as Eartha Mae Kitt. She danced, sang, and acted her way into the hearts of millions.

In 1968, she dared speak out against the Vietnam War, when the war was raging at its hottest, and was both blacklisted and hounded for doing so. That's because she spoke at a photo-op at the White House in the face of First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

For daring to speak her mind at the heart of the empire, and for denouncing an Imperial war, the media and the state tried to “disappear” her.  She had to go abroad to find her freedom of speech, where she remained for nearly a decade.

For those who want to see her as a seductive chanteuse, the 1958 film, St. Louis Blues, starring Nat King Cole, Ruby Dee, Pearl Bailey and the gospel great, Mahalia Jackson, is a great source.  For a slightly comic turn, see her as an amorous entrepreneurial cougar on the hunt for a young Eddie Murphy in the 1992 film Boomerang starring Halle Berry as the principal love interest.

Although she was known as the quintessential sex kitten for her acting, her public outspokenness came at quite a cost. Her comings, goings, doings and sayings were tracked by both the FBI and the CIA.

She moved through life with an intelligence, wit and nerve that made her distinctive and unforgettable.

Eartha Mae Kitt was 80 when she died December 25, 2008.


[Sources: African Arts and Letters, eds, Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Phila., PA: Running Press, 2004.]
 

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