Eartha Mae Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008) was an American actress, singer and cabaret star. She was perhaps best known for her highly distinctive singing style and her 1953 hit Christmas song "Santa Baby". Orson Welles once called her the "most exciting woman in the world." She took over the role of Catwoman for the third season of the 1960s Batman television series, replacing Julie Newmar, who was unavailable for the final season. She also was famous for being the voice of Yzma in Disney's The Emperor's New Groove as well as its sequel and TV series.
Kitt was born on a cotton plantation in North, South Carolina, a small town in Orangeburg County near Columbia, South Carolina. Kitt's mother was of Cherokee and African-American descent and her father of German or Dutch descent. Kitt was conceived by rape.
Kitt was raised by Anna Mae Riley, an African-American woman whom she believed to be her mother. Anna Mae went to live with a black man when Eartha was 8. He refused to accept Kitt because of her relatively pale complexion. Kitt lived with another family until Riley's death. She was then sent to live in New York City with Mamie Kitt, who she learned was her biological mother. She had no knowledge of her father, except that his surname was Kitt and that he was supposedly a son of the owner of the farm where she had been born. Newspaper obituaries state that her white father was "a poor cotton farmer".
Kitt began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company in 1943 and remained a member of the troupe until 1948. A talented singer with a distinctive voice, she recorded the hits "Let's Do It"; "Champagne Taste"; "C'est si bon"; "Just an Old Fashioned Girl"; "Monotonous"; "Je cherche un homme"; "Love for Sale"; "I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch"; "Uskudar'a Gideriken (aka Katibim)"; "Mink, Schmink"; "Under the Bridges of Paris"; and her most recognizable hit, "Santa Baby", which was released in 1953. Kitt's unique style was enhanced as she became fluent in the French language during her years performing in Europe. Her English-speaking performances always seemed to be enriched by a soft French feel. She spoke four languages and sang in seven, which she effortlessly demonstrated in many of the live recordings of her cabaret performances.