Tag Archives: Eartha Kitt

Eartha & Kitt: A Love Story In Black And White

In 1957, Eartha Kitt starred in the Westport Country Playhouse production of “Mrs. Patterson.”

She was already famous. The actor/singer/dancer had debuted on Broadway a dozen years earlier. Her 1953 recordings of “C’est Si Bon” and “Santa Baby” both hit the Top 10. Orson Welles had called her the “most exciting woman in the world.”

She had homes in Beverly Hills and London. But in 2001 — after her daughter Kitt Shapiro had married Allan Rothschild, and moved into his Westport house — Eartha Kitt bought a home in Weston.

She loved it: the people, the river, the proximity to New York (and her grandchildren).

Kitt and her kids thrived here. She loves living in “a unique area, with eclectic people.” Three years ago she opened WEST, a very cool Post Road East boutique.

Eartha Kitt died in 2008. Kitt had worked closely with her, on business matters.

Now Kitt has written a book. Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter’s Love Story in Black and White details their wonderful relationship. And much, much more. It will be published May 4, just before Mother’s Day.

Eartha’s mother was of African and Cherokee descent. Eartha never knew her father; he may have been white.

“I was meant to be her daughter. I gave my mother roots and grounding,” Kitt — who was born in 1961, during Eartha’s 4-year marriage to John McDonald — says. “That’s not always easy, for people in that industry.”

Eartha Kitt was sometimes “too light-skinned for Black people, and too dark for white people,” Kitt Shapiro says.

Kitt herself has been attacked on social media for being “too light to be Eartha Kitt’s daughter.”

Eartha Kitt and her daughter.

“The gene pool does what it does,” she says. “My mother thought that treating people a certain way just because of their skin color was preposterous. She couldn’t understand the need of society to pigeonhole people as one particular thing.”

In her early years in New York, Eartha had to be “either a jazz singer or a gospel singer. She couldn’t be just ‘a singer.’ She fought against that, and we’re still fighting that today.”

That’s one of the themes of Eartha & Kitt. Kitt felt this is “the right time to talk about race, and a woman who was a trailblazer. She was a Black woman, a role model who spoke out.”

Eartha Kitt certainly did that. In 1968 — at a White House luncheon — she sharply criticized President Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War. The CIA called her “a sadistic nymphomaniac,” and her career stalled in the US. She continued to perform, with great success, in Europe and Asia.

In 1978 she returned triumphantly to Broadway, in “Timbuktu!” She gained new generations of fans with voiceovers in movies like “The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story,” New York cabarets and much more.

Kitt Shapiro’s new book is “for anyone who had a relationship like we did — whether it was with a mother, a mother figure or a sibling.”

Its message, she says, will resonate with many: “We all have a right to be here. We are all unique. We can embrace and learn from each other. That was my mother’s philosophy, and it speaks to a lot of people.”

When Eartha Kitt died, her daughter says proudly, she had 200,000 Facebook followers. Many were women between 18 and 35 years old. They admired “a woman who never compromised who she was. She always spoke the truth.”

Now Kitt Shapiro brings that message to a new, even wider audience.

(Click here to order Eartha & Kitt: A Daughter’s Love Story in Black and White. Eartha Kitt died of colon cancer; Kitt Shapiro is raising funds for the American Cancer Society’s “Women Leading the Way to Wellness” project. Stop in to WEST at 117 Post Road East; for $125 you get a signed copy of her book, a scented candle, and beaded bracelet.)

“Santa Baby” Sequel: Weston’s Eartha Kitt Lives On

Once upon a time, Christmas music was — well, Christmas music.

“Silent Night.” “Adeste Fidelis.” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  You know — songs about Jesus, the Magi and the manger.

In 1953, Eartha Kitt released “Santa Baby.” It was — well, earthy.

Eartha Kitt

The 26-year-old entertainer sang seductively about gifts from a sugar daddy Santa — you know, a yacht, sable and ’54 convertible.

Despite being banned in parts of the South, it was the best-selling Christmas song of the year.

In the nearly 70 years since, it’s been covered by dozens of artists, including Madonna, Kylie Mingoue, Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Michael Bublé, RuPaul and Homer & Jethro.

It’s been found on lists of the best — and worst — Christmas songs of all time.

And it opened the door for an entire new category of offbeat holiday tunes. Had it not been for “Santa Baby,” we might never have known the singing chipmunks, the Kinks’ violent “Father Christmas,” or the song that truly is the worst of all time — in any category — “The Christmas Shoes.”

Eartha Kitt died in 2008 — fittingly, on Christmas Day — in her Weston home. Her daughter Kitt Shapiro has lived in Westport for 20 years. She owns WEST, the great boutique on Post Road East.

“Santa Baby” sure has legs. Last Friday, Sony Music released a new, animated video version of the song.

It’s quite a story. Directed by Kelly Jones (founder of a Black-owned visual media and design house) and produced by Cousins (a queer-owned production studio), it’s an homage to Eartha Kitt’s life and career. Smooth, sexy animation draws viewers right into the singer’s dreamy wish list.

In this COVID-stricken year of 2020, Santa may be paring down his gift list. He might be careful about how many homes he visits.

But if Eartha Kitt has her way — wherever she is now — Santa will hurry down her chimney that night.

Feliz Navidad, Santa Baby!

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

Turns out, 06880 — and 06883 — are where we meet the Christmas music world too.

The other day in Weston, Susan Feliciano was listening to Songcraft. The popular podcast features chats with the creators of America’s most popular music.

The most recent edition covered Christmas songs. Susan’s husband Jose was the first interview.

The best-selling guitarist/vocalist has been on a sold-out tour of the British Isles since October. So even though Susan knew the back story, it was nice to hear Jose’s voice as he talked about writing the joyful, jangly — and spectacularly successful — “Feliz Navidad” one day in July.

She kept listening.

The next interview was with Phil Springer. That’s when Susan learned something she never knew.

Springer is now 91. Way back in 1953 — more than 60 years ago — he was a Brill Building songwriter, writing for stars like Judy Garland.

His boss asked Springer to work with lyricist Joan Javits on a Christmas song for Eartha Kitt.

“She was the sexiest woman in America,” he told Songcraft.

Springer and Javits spent 2 weekends collaborating on the song — at her father’s Westport home. (Springer did not say who Javits’ father was. But her uncle was Jacob Javits, then a US congressman from New York, later a senator, and now the namesake of a large convention center.)

Their collaboration became what Springer calls “the first sexy Christmas song” (with lyrics like “Santa baby, Slip a sable under the tree, for me … Been an awful good girl … Hurry down the chimney tonight”).

Eartha Kitt’s recording became a huge hit in 1953 — but then disappeared. (Coincidentally, in later years she became a Weston neighbor of Jose and Susan Feliciano.)

“Santa Baby” resurfaced in 1987, when Madonna revived it. Since then it’s been featured in “Driving Miss Daisy,” and recorded by many other female singers.

Today, both “Feliz Navidad” and “Santa Baby” can be heard on every Christmas radio station — and just about every other place — in America.

Including — particularly proudly — Westport and Weston, their spiritual homes.

(Click here for the full Songcraft Christmas show podcast.)