By Conway Jones
Diva, legend and international celebrity Eartha Kitt has died at age 81.
With her curvaceous frame and unabashed vocal come-ons, she was among the first widely known African-American sex symbols. She was proclaimed as “the most exciting woman alive” by Orson Welles in the early ’50s.
Kitt was the illegitimate child of a black Cherokee sharecropper mother and a white man. She worked in cotton fields and lived with a black family. She was sent to live in Harlem with an aunt at age 8.
By her early teenage years she was working in a factory and sleeping in subways and on the roofs of unlocked buildings. Despite these early travails of life, she began performing in the late ’40s as a dancer in New York. She purred and pounced her way across Broadway stages, recording studios and movie and television screens in a show-business career that lasted more than six decades.
Kitt dabbled in dance music, scoring her biggest hit with “Where Is My Man” in 1984. This same year she toured South Africa, playing to integrated audiences and helping build schools for black children.
Her biggest hit was “Santa Baby” which had a vocal ‘sizzle’. Ms. Kitt, a native of South Carolina, spoke four languages and sang in seven.She received her second Tony nomination in 2000 for best featured actress in a musical in “The Wild Party.”
She will be most remembered for her signature songs, “C’est Si Bon” and “Love for Sale.” Ms. Kitt succumbed to colon cancer in Connecticut at the age of 81.