Since it is Black History month in the United States, I thought it would be an apt occasion to look at some of the African American performers who found success and happiness in France.
Eartha Kitt (1927-2008) lived a life of crushing poverty and neglect. She was a bi-racial child conceived as the result of a rape. She was handed off from neighbors to aunts until she ended up on the streets of Harlem trying to support herself through a series of odd jobs.
She had the good fortune to land a role with a dance troop at age 16. On a tour in Paris, she had the opportunity to stay on to replace a sick cabaret singer. She was a knock-out. Her purring voice and intimate conversations with the audience won her a huge following. She was fluent in four languages, including French, and could sing convincingly in seven. Her signature song was C’est si bon! in which she flirted shamelessly as the original Material Girl, wondering if anyone in the audience might have “un petit yacht?” Her biggest hit was the 1953 smash hit Santa Baby, which has been covered by many, but never equaled.
Orson Welles called her, “the most exciting woman in the world” and cast her in films. She expanded into Broadway and television, too, appearing in one season as Catwoman. Her career stalled for much of the 70s, after she offended President and Mrs. Johnson with her anti-Vietnam comments while a guest at the White House. Life was made so difficult for her that she chose to live in Europe for the next decade. Her activism continued right up until her death, however. She championed the issue of gay marriages as a basic civil rights issue.
C’est si bon(seh see boh) means “it’s so good.” Treat yourself to a listen to the original sex kitten. Fifty-eight years later, it’s still so good.