When I talked with Eartha after her fabulous show, I was tongue tied.
My love affair with the fantabuolus Eartha and the only cat woman that mattered began early. At seven, much to my father’s embarrassment, I enjoyed purring like the odd woman on Batman. There was something supremely divine and enchanting about this creature.
Long before I knew what power was and how to yield it, I watched her reduce men to piles of goo with a sigh, an exaggerrated expression or a chuckle that stated: “I adore me, don’t you ?”
My desire to dream and do things can be tied to this exceptional human who continued to defy odds and recreate herself and a place in society even though she was told early and often that there was none.
As a kid growing up and well into my 20’s, I knew very little of her contributions to not only the world of performing arts but her struggle for civil rights and personal and artistic freedom. Many years of hearing that purr and all of that sensual energy let me dismiss her as just a sexy enchantress.
She was that and so much more.
While we like the persona she created, there was much to share in terms of speaking out, risking it all for art and the people and then being punished for it all. As a gay, black artist, I ,too, am often taken to task for not doing what black artists are expected to do which no one has explained to me.
Ms.Eartha taught me to dream and to push beyond what everyone, myself included, thinks is possible and go for more.
After devouring not one but two books about her fascinating life, it was apparent to me that she had a life worth imitating and that she was often lauded and seldom understood. Breaking through color barriers and performing on Broadway and in NYC cabarets,she forced the world to rethink what was possible for a female artist of color to achieve.
Whether performing in New Faces on Broadway, an extended engagement in a NYC Nightclub or fending off Orson Welles in the back of a taxi, Ms. Eartha was bad to the bone then and handled her business before any of us had business of our own to handle.
When I witnessed her magic in person at 78 years old ( feisty, naughty, still doing back bends, rocking a dress with side splits to her waist and driving men crazy) I thought to myself this is what great art is made to do and this is what great artists can and must do.
Still doing two shows nightly and singing in six languages for weeks on end truly floored me.
Watching her work was a study in viewing perfection and a person highly comfortable with their self. This is something we should all aspire to.