Eartha Kitt: Down To Eartha

Although she was stylistically on the edge of jazz, Kitt's sultry voice and innuendo had much in common with jazz and blues expression

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Never a jazz vocalist in the accepted fashion, Eartha Kitt was closer to a French chanteuse, both in terms of delivery and material. She had a distinctive voice, and mixed her knife-edged tone with sultry, moody expression, throwaway humour and a tight vibrato. The result is a kind of exotic eroticism, laced with over-the-top innuendo.

Most of the orchestration is in the hands of Henri René, musical director for RCA, who despite the name was an American. He was actually born Harold Kirchstein, of German and French parentage. Some of the album has a choral accompaniment which can be irritating, but like the stringed arrangements it reflects the commercial musical fashion of the time.

There are some interesting tracks such as The Heel, reminiscent of Jacques Brel, with poignant lyrics based on a song by Italian poet and composer Léo Ferré. My Heart’s Delight has a 50s R&B flavour, whilst Hey, Jacque was co-written by Eden Ahbez, the enigmatic character who wrote Nature Boy. Of those not on the original album, the stand-out track I Want To Be Evil is taken from That Bad Eartha, and benefits from no chorus. Never On A Sunday is from the later Bad But Beautiful LP.

It is hardly surprising that Kitt’s voice lends itself to those numbers with French lyrics, such as Je Cherche Un Homme, as she became fluent in the language during her years performing in Europe. However, having grown up with Stan Freberg’s parody of C’Est Si Bon, it’s difficult not to think of his version.

The sound quality is good, on 180gm coloured vinyl, and is a worthwhile introduction for those wanting a disc that represents the repertoire of a singer who had a wide appeal in the mid 20th century.

Discography
I Wantcha Around; Do You Remember; Looking For A Boy; I’ve Got That Lovin’ Bug Itch; Oh, John!; Strangers In The Starlight; Mack The Knife; Je Cherche Un Homme (I Want A Man); I Want To Be Evil; The Day That The Circus Left Town; Apres Moi; The Heel; Mambo De Paree; My Heart’s Delight; Hey, Jacque; Never On Sunday; C’Est Si Bon (It’s So Good); Santa Baby (49.44)
Kitt (v) with The Henri René Orchestra featuring René (s, p); Doc Severinson (t); Urbie Green (tb); Walt Levinsky (cl); Al Caiola (g), plus unidentified strings, bass, drums and chorus. New York, 1954-8. Except track 7, with Maurice Levine Orchestra, NY, 1959 and track 16 with Bill Loose Orchestra, NY, 1961.
Waxtime In Color 950746