Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt

Purr-fect: Greatest Hits

BMG

Chances are most people my age remember Eartha Kitt for her stint as Catwoman on the original Batman TV series. But by the time Kitt was meowrrling her way between the biffs and pows, it was her third, fourth or fifth career; it’s a bit unfair to pigeonhole her talents to a bit role as a feline vamp on what is arguably the peak of television camp. And it seems more than a bit unfair after listening to this collection of 22 songs from Eartha’s RCA days in the 1950’s.

With a voice that can best be described as a sultry warble, and a playful yet seductive delivery that makes obvious why she was selected to play Catwoman, Kitt slinks her way through a series of standards and specialties in the most genteel manner imaginable. Her command of voice and diction — songs in French, Spanish and Turkish appear here — is quite surprising; this young cosmopolitan was actually a “sophisticated cotton picker” (her words) from the hamlet of North, in South Carolina.

Classics like “Santa Baby,” Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and “I Want To Be Evil” provide touchstones for the collection, but it’s Kitt’s more exotic material — “Uska Dara,” a traditional Turkish tune, or the wonderfully jaded “Monotonous” — that make smiles whenever her voice enters the room. The liner notes hint at a life and career that is complicated even by today’s standards, but in the end, Kitt’s voice washes away all the details with a raspy tongue and silk-soft step.

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