This Day in Black History: Jan. 17, 1927

Eartha Kitt, trend-setting singer and actress, was born.

Posted: 01/17/2014 12:00 AM EST

Eartha Kitt, who was known for her highly distinctive vocal style and for being an actress in groundbreaking roles, was born on Jan. 17, 1927, near Columbia, South Carolina. In an acting career that spanned five decades, she was known for roles in films and television shows as varied as St. Louis Blues to Batman, where she played the role of Catwoman.

Her recording of the song “Santa Baby” drew a national audience in the 1950s and she was dubbed by Orson Welles as “the most exciting woman in the world.” 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 unique voice, she recorded the hits "Let's Do It," "Champagne Taste" and "C'est si bon."

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Kitt recorded and worked in film and television as well as in nightclubs around the country. She also acted on Broadway. In the 1960s, she became a passionate and outspoken opponent to the war in Vietnam and spoke against it to President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

She played the role of Lady Eloise in the 1992 film Boomerang, a role that gained her the attention of an entirely new generation of African-American audiences. Kitt died in 2008 in Connecticut of cancer.

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  (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

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