Eartha Kitt was born in 1927 on a cotton plantation in South Carolina. Though her mother was Afro-Cherokee, her father was reported to be the white son of the plantation owner. When her mother remarried, her stepfather considered Eartha too light-skinned to be accepted in his household and she was sent to live with abusive relatives. Finally, her aunt took her to live in Harlem, where she was able to find outlets for her many talents. She attended a performing arts high school, and when she graduated she became a dancer with the Katherine Dunham Company. Around the same time, she began recording songs in her unconventional manner like “Champagne Taste,” “I’d Rather Be Burned as a Witch,” and “C’est Si Bon.” Her distinctive voice was enhanced by her fluent French and cosmopolitan style. In 1950, Orson Welles became completely taken with her talent and gave Kitt her first starring roles. In 1968 First Lady Lady Bird Johnson held a White House luncheon to discuss juvenile delinquency, and insisted Eartha Kitt attend. When Kitt was asked what she felt was the cause of growing rebellion among young people, she answered honestly. “They’re angry,” she said, “because there is a war going on that they don’t understand . . . You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed.” By 1968, political unrest in the United States of America had taken on epic proportions. The war in Vietnam was only escalating, and people were increasingly taking to the streets to speak out against it. Considering the intensified political atmosphere of the country, nothing Eartha Kitt said was particularly radical. But it caused Lady Bird Johnson to burst into tears, and within hours her career in America was over and she was under surveillance by the CIA. She never regretting speaking her mind that day, but she was left with a bitter lesson: “if you tell the truth – in a country that says you’re entitled to tell the truth – you get your face slapped and you get put out of work.”

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