For the second year, South Carolina will honor a native daughter on this day in January.
After nearly a decade of working to formally recognize the world-famous singer and actress from North, Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter achieved success in 2016 in getting legislative approval of “Eartha Kitt Day.”
Jan. 17 marks Eartha Kitt’s birthday. She would have been 91 today.
During the six-decade span of her career, Kitt won two Emmys and was also nominated for several Tonys and two Grammys.
Best known for her distinctive voice on vocals like "Santa Baby" and her captivating portrayal of the infamous Catwoman in the hit "Batman" TV series, Kitt was born in North on Jan. 17, 1927. She died on Christmas Day in 2008.
The effort to honor her was spearheaded by Cobb-Hunter, former Orangeburg resident Rosa Bogar, the Rev. Rick Jones, Sheldon Rice, citizens of North and other interested parties. A year ago, the Town of North held a January celebration honoring Kitt.
Among those in attendance were Kitt’s only child, Kitt Shapiro of Westport, Connecticut.
Of the South Carolina General Assembly’s approval of Eartha Kitt Day, Shapiro has said: “This is a big deal. Not everybody’s parent gets a day named after them. My mother always referred to herself as ‘just a cotton picker from the South.’ The years she spent there were not easy and she didn’t spend many there, but they were so formative in who she was as a human being.”
And in North a year ago, Shapiro said: “My mother always said that however you treated someone or something, it would respond in kind. Thank you for remembering her and celebrating her accomplishments.”
Shapiro said her mother’s name says a lot about who she was as an individual.
“She was truly of the Earth, and so much of the way she lived was from learning how to survive on that cotton plantation in North, South Carolina. She learned about nature and the importance of how you treat the environment and land,” Shapiro said.
Of note, Cobb-Hunter has made the point that the designation is about more than honoring the accomplished entertainer. It is about promoting cultural tourism as a way to spur economic development in rural South Carolina.
“There are people who I’ve heard from around the world who loved Eartha Kitt. They were excited about this being done, so what it does is provide Orangeburg County and the Town of North with an opportunity to see if it can spur some cultural tourism,” the legislator said in 2016.
The possibilities are there.
As Shapiro has said, “I have so many of my mother’s possessions and so much of her things she put her hands on. I think it would be powerful to give it a home somewhere in her home state. It is interesting because I think there’s so much about her that many people don’t know.
“I think having her own day gives the foundation for being able to hear her story and for being an example for young and old people. I think we all need to be reminded of the importance of survivors and the people who impacted the world even if they weren’t singers.”