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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Eartha The purrfect lady Eartha The purrfect lady
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Eartha The purrfect lady Eartha The purrfect lady
by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Eartha Kitt
July 22-25
Jazz Alley

The name Eartha Kitt summons sounds of sultry and salacious purring. This has been the legacy the extraordinary performer has exuded for her entire career. But it hasn't been easy. She's had to fight through difficult times and has returned triumphant again and again, reaching new heights and appealing to an expanded audience of fans.

Born out of wedlock in the 1920s in South Carolina, Eartha Kitt never knew the lineage of her true parents. Her unusual name was given to her because the Earth was bountiful that year. At an early age, her mother abandoned her to an aunt living in New York. It was there that Ms. Kitt left her schooling for an audition with the famed Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe. The troupe went on a worldwide tour with her as a featured dancer and vocalist before the age of 20. Her performances caught the attention of Orson Welles, who dubbed her "the most exciting woman in the world," a title that has followed her throughout her life - and rightly so. She has written three very candid autobiographies and even an exercise book.

Because Ms. Kitt values her privacy, she does not do many interviews with the press, yet she agreed to do an exclusive interview with the Seattle Gay News. Calling her at her home in Connecticut, excitement charged the phone wires as her sultry voice answered my questions. At 81 years of age, she answers questions directly and with a sly sense of humor. Ms. Kitt is one of the most candid, unabashed speakers I have ever interviewed.

Eric Andrews-Katz: You were born out of wedlock in the 1920s in South Carolina. How did that experience mold you into the extraordinary performer that you've become?

Eartha Kitt: I've gathered my strength from being an outcast. Everything negative in life becomes a positive. I didn't think of my life as complicated while growing up. All I did was live it. And all I do now is live it.

Andrews-Katz: I've read that Billie Holliday was a large influence on your musical career. What other performers have influenced you?

Kitt: No, that's not true. I just heard her [once] through a door, but she didn't influence my work at all. No one performer has influenced me. I keep my interpretations of songs as something that goes on around me. I don't want to be like someone else; I always wanted to be me and I want my music to reflect that.

Andrews-Katz: Your 1953 hit "Santa Baby" propelled you into US stardom. Are there any songs that affect you on a personal note?

Kitt: "Santa Baby" wasn't what gave me notice. It was in the Broadway show New Faces of 1952 that I got to sing the songs "Monotonous" and "Bal, Petit Bal" that really caught on. Every song I sing affects me. "God Bless the Child" means that God helps those who help themselves. While performing in Europe, it was singing the songs of Edith Piaf or Maurice Chevalier that helped me become more intercontinental.

Andrews-Katz: While at a White House luncheon, you made comments against the Vietnam War and were blacklisted from performing in the United States. You were in Europe for the next 10 years. Do you prefer a European or American audience?

Kitt: I prefer the audience that is in front of me. The one that is here and now is the one that matters.

Andrews-Katz: It is reported that you speak 10 languages. Which one do you prefer to speak?

Kitt: I get along very well in seven or eight languages. I don't think I could have philosophical or political conversations in them, though. I learned them to be able to sing different songs. Spanish and French are the ones I speak better because so many of the songs I sing were written for those languages.

Andrews-Katz: You have seduced several generations with your sultry "purr." How did that originate?

Kitt: That came about when I was learning French. Because of the way I pronounced their words. I never made anything of it until Catwoman came along.

Andrews-Katz: Do you find the label of Catwoman has helped or hindered your career?

Kitt: Everything in my career helped me. I never think of anything as being big or small or not significant, so everything helps to make me the person I've become. I don't ever think "I shouldn't have done that," but maybe "I should've had a better makeup guy." Every step you make is an effort to what's sustaining in your life and career.

Andrews-Katz: You have been nominated for three Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, two Emmy Awards, and you have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Do you have a preferred venue in which you like to perform?

Kitt: I prefer to play in front of people with live performances, be it plays or concerts. I take my work seriously and if I'm not sincere, then it's not me. People ask for Eartha Kitt, and they should get her, but they don't know her well. I'm the one that goes home with her and I like her very much.

Andrews-Katz: On behalf of the Gay community, I'd like to thank you for all the work you've done with HIV/AIDS organizations. How do you feel being a Gay icon?

Kitt: I appreciate it very much, but I'm not one, really. It was the Gay world that kept my career alive when I returned from Europe. It was always in the spirit of life in general. Timely. I didn't change my style; they just appreciated me for who I was. My only gold record is "Where Is My Man" that was played in the clubs.

Andrews-Katz: What is your reaction to being called "the most exciting woman in the world"?

Kitt: I believe every word of it. I think that every woman should feel that way about herself. If she does, then she can more easily excite her man.

Andrews-Katz: An entirely new generation was introduced to you through The Emperor's New Groove, when you did the voice of Yzma, and now again with the Saturday morning cartoon series. How does it feel to influence more than five generations?

Kitt: I love it! Love it! Love it! It's what's keeping me alive. There are 17-20-year-old boys that come to my shows saying they have me for an hour on Saturday mornings. It's not only the young, it's the parents, too. They can watch the show together.

Andrews-Katz: After all of your personal experiences with prejudice and bigotry in the US, do you think the country is ready for a mixed-race president?

Kitt: Of course we should be. Whether he is mixed race or not is not what we should be interested in. I'm interested in his intelligence, and don't think color should matter. What should matter is his capability and common sense. I love this country and I think we can get things changed. Yes, he would be in for challenges, but I think this country has come a long way. We know that we haven't gotten things 100% right, but at least we have made a big effort. The American people, in general, handle things very well. We have grown up so much to accomplish what we have, and have come so far. It's miraculously wonderful what this country has done, but we need to stop fighting ourselves. We need to stop asking the government for more than we are entitled to. I think we ask too much from the government, or from God, and not enough from ourselves.

Andrews-Katz: Do you prefer to work with others in a play or concert, or do you prefer to be solo?

Kitt: I've been solo all my life. The only person I'd prefer to work with was Nat King Cole; he had a great, tempered humor. Casts are wonderful to work with as they help the other characters get stronger. It's like camaraderie, a give and take. I do that with musicians and become one big family. We tease and play with each other and have a good time, but when it's time to go on, we're serious. The more fun we have with each other, the better relationship we have on stage. That's the way it should be. A show to me is all-encompassing; it's not just one person.

Andrews-Katz: At 81, do you ever think of retiring? Or is that not in your plans?

Kitt: I don't think about retiring because I don't like boredom. I keep busy with needlepoint. My entire house is covered with it, and if I do one stitch, I know exactly where it's coming out. That's not complicated. It's simplicity, and that's how I like to keep my life.

Delighting more than five generations of audiences, Ms. Kitt is truly the purrfect entertainer, and her show should not be missed. The incomparable Eartha Kitt will be performing at Seattle's Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, from July 22 - 27. Ticket prices are $32.50 - $33.50 and reservations can be made by phone at (206) 441-9729 or through TicketMaster.

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