It’s Christmas. As usual it’s a sad Christmas. This is becoming way too common lately……
I am starting to dread checking my Yahoo home page on Christmas. Two years ago I logged on and found the news that the Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother #1, Mr. Please Please himself, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. James Brown had died. Today I logged on and my heart fell again. This time it was a little more personal.
Two years ago, about this time, the Artistic Administrator in Edmonton sent me an email. It was something along the lines of “how would you like to work with Eartha Kitt in June, 2007?” It took me a minute to realize who he was talking about because I thought that she had retired long ago from the stage. Since I had young kids, and I had grown up in the ’70s, I was intimately familiar with Ms. Kitt. First there was her irrepressible take on CatWoman. Second, there was her great work in one of my closet favorite animated movies The Emporer’s New Groove. We won’t even start with the whole Santa Baby thing which came out…….. well……. more than five decades ago.
I remember mentioning her to my wife and her face lit up. She had just done a show with the Minnesota Orchestra earlier in ’06 with Eartha. She said something along the lines of “I hope I look half as good at my age as she does at 80. And by the way her show was great!” So as the date came closer I became more and more excited. Here was one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences.
Eartha was scheduled to play a Saturday night show in Edmonton. We had two rehearsals, one Friday and one Saturday afternoon, and we were expecting her for the Saturday rehearsal. After the Friday rehearsal came the news that due to a mixup with her passport she had missed her flight for Friday. Her itinerary became – fly early Saturday from New York, afternoon rehearsal in Edmonton, concert that night, fly back to NYC early Sunday. Did I mention that at this point she was 80?
The Saturday afternoon rehearsal started @ 2 pm. At 2:30 Eartha came in, straight from the airport. She immediately started in, singing and stretching out, and bantering all the time. An easier “Diva” to work with I can’t imagine. I have an indelible memory of her singing Santa Baby and doing stretches, never missing a beat.
That night was electric. We had some introductory music, then I introduced Ms. Kitt. As soon as she walked….. strolled…… crawled…….. sauntered………. prowled…… in the audience leapt to their feat. Ms. Kitt was in Da HOUSE!!! She tore the roof offa that sucka. Sexy is hardly the word for it. At the age of 80 she was by far the sexiest person within a mile of that stage. I will never, ever forget her cozying up to the podium and glancing over at me. My blood pressure went through the roof and I had to reach for my handkerchief to wipe the sweat off of my brow as I tried desperately to move out from under the glare of her eyes. She caught that move and promptly cozied herself up closer. Out came the handkerchief again, I moved farther, and the play continued. Shortly thereafter I found myself running out of room on the podium. That’s when she moved in for the kill.
For the record, yes, it is possible for a black man to blush.
After the concert I asked her for a photo together. She was exhausted, and it took her a minute to catch her breath, yet she graciously acquiesced. I guarantee you that no one in the audience ever had a clue that she was on the verge of collapsing. When I went back to my office I found that she had also left me an autographed PR photo of herself, which is now hanging in my music studio at home. It was only several months later that I found out that during this whole time she was suffering from cancer. You would have never known it. She OWNED that hall – the rest of us were just along for the ride.
Eartha was the consummate professional. If she had a gig she would play it to the fullest, and I sincerely doubt there was ever an audience anywhere that was in the least disappointed by one of her performances. She was, in a word, a Pro. I will miss her. I am desperately proud that I had the chance to work with this great legend, this wonderful person.
Goodnight Eartha. I hope we meet again in the next life.