Before there was Lady Gaga and before there was Madonna, there was Eartha Kitt. She was one of the flamboyant personalities of her era – Orson Welles called her “the world’s most exciting woman.” She led such an interesting life that she wrote not one, not two, but three autobiographies in 1956, 1976, and 1989.
Kitt (1927-2008) took the road less travelled throughout her career that spanned six decades. Whether it was on stage, in films, as a social activist, or as a singer who sold millions of albums, she left her mark upon the world.
Her recording career began during 1952, when she issued her first album, Lovin’ Spree. Her breakthrough song, "Santa Baby," was released during 1953. It would prove to be her signature masterpiece and highest charting single, as it would reach number four on the United States Singles Chart during the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era. It was a song about a woman who wanted extravagant gifts for Christmas. Kitt may not have had the best voice of her generation, but it was sultry and emotional. There is no way any Santa Claus could have refused her. Her version of the song is still recognizable today.
The Sony Legacy Label has now issued The Essential Eartha Kitt. She joins such artists as Paul Revere and The Raiders, Django Reinhardt, and The Fifth Dimension who have been so honored. It is a sprawling, two-disc, 40-track compilation that spans her career. While it is a nice introduction to her career and music, it only provides a taste of the 40 albums she released through the years.
Her work may not be familiar to the rock ‘n’ roll or hip hop generations, but if you are of a certain age or inclination, many of the songs will resonate. Many of her well-known tracks are included: “I Want To Be Evil,” “My Heart Belongs To Daddy,” “Somebody Stole The Wedding Bell,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and the aforementioned “Santa Baby” are Kitt at her sassy and sexy best.
Also included is some of her material that has fallen below the radar in recent years. “Two Lovers,” “Monotonous,” “The Day The Circus Left Town,” “Lazy Afternoon,” “Lullaby Of Birdland,” and “Honolulu Rock and Roll” are all gems that have retained their power and ability to entertain across the decades.
Eartha Kitt continued to perform until just before her death at the age of 81. The Essential Eartha Kitt is a nice place to explore her music and legacy. It fact, it’s just about purrfect.