She’s still hereBy Zarminae Ansari
Eartha Kitt, legendary vocalist, played at the Scullers Jazz Club in Boston from August 18th to 21st. Around fifteen years ago, my cousins and I saw a video of her singing “I Chew My Fingers to the Bone.” Her expression was intense, her eyes piercing, her voice growlingly husky, almost witch-like, the lyrics incomprehensible, even scary: the youngest of us hid away in fear.
Later, when I became reacquainted with Ms. Kitt, I thought her intensely sexy, her voice bewitching. I could laugh out loud at the often humorous, ambiguously, and even unambiguously risquÉ lyrics. I was moved by her ballads. She sounded as if she sang with every inch of her body. On Thursday, August 19th, I finally saw her perform live when, dressed in a sexy black gown showing off her well-kept figure, Ms. Kitt sashayed on to the stage and began with an enthusiastic, determinedly strong rendition of “I’m Still Here.”
She has been “still here” for over half a century: the audience was astonished to hear that on January 17th she had turned 72. Originally from South Carolina, Eartha Kitt was trained as a dancer and gained fame in post-war Paris, before her film debut in 1948’s Casbah. Her most famous and definitive character remains that of the grrrrowwwling Catwoman in the 60’s television series “Batman.”
Politically outspoken, she was a target of a government smear campaign from late 60’s to the 70’s. She earned a Tony nomination for the 1978 Broadway production of Timbuktu. While one of her most popular songs is “I Want to be Evil,” her community service attests she’s anything but. The reason why the intimidating image stuck is because of her dramatic and completely convincing theatrical style. She can flirt with a sweet innocent voice and then drop to the voice of a street-smart, witty, intelligent femme fatale.
The second song actually gave her age away more than her still fabulous looks or voice. It really made me realize what a different era I belong to, since this song was decidedly politically incorrect. Now, “politically correct” and “proper” are not words that you would usually associate with a performance by Eartha Kitt, yet this particular song made my friends and me uncomfortable, and even now I don’t know what to make of it. Having traveled all over the world, Ms. Kitt came across Japanese singers mimicking herself and Rosemary Clooney -- and this song was supposed to mimic those singers. I wondered if we have been so tainted by political correctness that I was unable to really enjoy this particular performance, brilliant as it might have been, with Ms. Kitt batting her eyelashes in time with the music.
She followed this with an Arabic song and then a French one. Her long-running engagements at venues such as the CafÉ Caryle in New York have perfected her talent of playing the audience as she performs for them. During a repartee with a member of the audience, she asked him how old he was. At his reply she dismissed him saying, “Thirty-one? What a ridiculous age to be in! Don’t you know no one is 31 any more? Not even my daughter is 31 any more!”
From the wonderfully atmospheric “I Don’t Remember You” to the lusty “I Will Survive” to her cheerful standard “CÉst Si Bon,” she wooed the audience to the very end with a poignant rendition of “Here’s to Life.” Still every inch the glamorous Cat-Woman of the sixties, the 72-year-old started the show with a bang and ended it with an even bigger one.