Eartha Kitt

🏷 Singer, actress, dancer, and activist from North, South Carolina

This week, Ecléctico features music from essays by writers we love reading.

Today, we listen to Eartha Kitt, then go deeper with an essay by Latria Graham.

"C'est Si Bon" by Eartha Kitt (1955)

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Go deeper with writer Latria Graham.

Oxford American: When I turned on my car, Eartha Kitt’s voice poured out of the stereo and covered me like smoke—an aural vapor, a remnant of the hot, fast-moving fire that the cabaret singer embodied when she was alive. A chorus of trumpets, with their tinny nasally brilliance, announces the start of “C’est Si Bon,” and seven seconds later Eartha slides in on the breath. With one long glance in my rearview mirror, I left my driveway and went in search of the performer’s alter ego, who went by the name Eartha Mae.

I wanted to see where Eartha Mae came from, to travel the roads she walked upon. Her hometown is two hours southeast of mine, so I drove, letting the singer play me into the town of North, South Carolina. By then, Eartha Kitt had been dead for a decade, but as I listened to her voice, she was alive, wry and spry, her trilling voice singing about her champagne tastes, which happen to be out of the price range of her potential suitor, who only has beer bottle money.

I needed to get to the root of the longing that spawned Kitt’s signature purr—and the heartache behind the growl that audiences know so well. I wanted to better understand Eartha Mae, who set out from her hometown hoping to find something better than picking cotton on the plantation where she was born. My goal was to see through the innuendos she used as a distraction and focus on the woman behind that controlled vibrato who wrestled with who she was and where she was from. Eartha Kitt was a diva—outspoken, provocative, seductive, and sophisticated. I believed Eartha Mae was a chameleon—becoming whatever the world needed her to be in order to survive.

Read the whole essay.

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