The Night I Met Eartha

I worked today. It was an early start, meaning I had to be at work at about 4.30am. Along the way I picked up the newspapers from the Taylor Square Newsagency. I did my job. I came home. And then I went to sleep for a while.

And then I woke up and read the news about the death of Eartha Kitt. Yeah I know, Harold Pinter has also died, but the news of the death of Eartha Kitt was far more personally interesting to me.

I first became aware of her work in the early 1980s when she released “Where Is My Man”, a very camp number written and produced by the team behind Village People. I vividly remember the first time I heard the song on the radio. It was the end of high school, and I was giving my friends Louise and Dale a lift home. And then all of a sudden it came on the radio. For whatever reason – and I’m sure you could spend ages psycho-analysing why – the song instantly resonated with me…

Over the next few years I discovered more of her back-catalogue, most of it through watching drag shows in Brisbane. I loved the dramatic and usually ironic quality in her works, especially in songs like “Old Fashioned Girl”. And she was also very “naughty” which I loved. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I kept collecting her new releases, mostly in the vein of “Where Is My Man”. Camp. Disco. Fantastic. I also began to dig deeper into her work, and to realise how important she was as a figure in the civil rights movement in America.

And then in the early 1990s, while I was working in Canberra, I remember Eartha Kitt performing there. After the show, as we walked into the Hyatt Hotel for supper, I remember walking past a colleague at the time, a bloke called Barrie Casey who already had a table. I don’t know whatever happened to Barrie, but at the time, he was quite a well known figure around Canberra. “James, how are you?”, he said to me as we walked past, looking around for a table. And then I looked at him and recognised his supper companion. “James, this is Eartha. Eartha, this is James”, he said. We smiled and said hello to each other. That was probably about the extent of the conversation, I guess. I still remember it, though, fondly, as “The Night I Met Eartha”.

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