Eartha Kitt passed away yesterday, Christmas, which is ironic since the only one of her songs that really remains in the public consciousness is Santa Baby, which gets trotted out and put on heavy rotation every December. Madonna paid homage to Eartha with her own version of Santa Baby but botched the job by portraying the character as stupid. Earth Kitt's public persona was many things: exotic, sexy, mercenary, camp, but never stupid. And the amazing thing is that she, a woman of color, was able to debut this persona, make it popular even, in the American 1950s, when Jim Crow was in full force and a lot of people still believed that "separate but equal" was a reasonable concept. (There are still those people, but I'm not getting into Prop 8.)
In the 1960s, while visiting the White House, she spoke out against the Vietnam war and found herself blacklisted because of it. She bounced back. They never stopped wanting her in Europe and eventually they wanted her in America, too. Her career saw success on Broadway, in cabaret, on movie and television screens, and on records. She continued working until the very end, and had bookings well into 2009. She died of colon cancer. She was 81.