Eartha Kitt: The Best Of Eartha Kitt 

Although not exclusively a jazz singer, Kitt bent the style to her purpose, notably here in Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Beale St Blues

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In the 50s, Eartha Kitt was a megastar media personality, dancer and actress – but also way ahead of any other American singer in mastering a dizzying array of musical genres, from Latin, Caribbean and Yiddish music to cabaret, blues, spirituals, folk, exotica and the precursors of today’s “world music”. She sang French and Turkish music with an authentic touch, having lived briefly in both countries in her early 20s.

But was Kitt a jazz singer? Occasionally, yes: check out for instance her Lazy Afternoon and Speak Low elsewhere, or her loose live versions with ad-libs and asides. She was also seemingly born to interpret Cole Porter’s naughtiest double entendres from the Great American Songbook (“If I invite a boy some night to dine on my fine Finnan haddie” on this collection).

However, there’s not much evidence of her jazz talent on this LP collection of 18 hit singles (not to be confused with other releases with the same title).

She comes closest here on Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, approaching Sarah Vaughan territory with a more limited, stilted voice that relies on vibrato and other mannerisms, and Beale St. Blues, where she sounds more supple and almost improvisatory.

Always though, Kitt seems to see these standards as mere vehicles to project her idiosyncratic, haughty stage persona – rather than self-standing works of art to be thoughtfully considered and reinterpreted. Kitt always serves herself before the song.

This is perfectly understandable, as her aim was financial security and acceptance after a loveless, desperately poor childhood in South Carolina, and her unwillingness to allow her racial background, gender, lack of formal education or connections – or even vocal prowess – to stand in her way of becoming a global superstar. For Kitt, jazz was just a rung on that ladder, one that she stepped on stylishly and confidently before moving daintily on to the next.

Discography
Santa Baby [Extended Version]; My Heart Belongs To Daddy; Uska Dara (A Turkish Tale); Just An Old Fashioned Girl; Yellow Bird; Angelitos Negros; Mack The Knife; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Je Cherche Un Homme; C’est Si Bon; I Want To Be Evil; Beale St. Blues; Monotonous; Avril Au Portugal; Hey Jacque; Sholem; Looking For A Boy; Let’s Do It (53.30)
Kitt (v); Henri René Orchestra; Maurice Levine Orchestra; Shorty Rogers Orchestra; Anton Coppola Orchestra. New York, 1953-59.
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