NEW YORK, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- Eartha Kitt, the U.S. singer-actress who learned to pick cotton before the age of 8, died in New York with her daughter at her side, her publicist said.
She was 81.
Kitt was being treated for colon cancer, publicist Patty Freedman told CNN Thursday.
Kitt said she got her unusual first name because she was born on a small farm in South Carolina during an abundant harvest.
"I was named Eartha to thank the earth for that fine crop," the tawny singer-actress said during an interview with UPI in 1981.
The singer was born Jan. 16, 1928, the daughter of John and Anna Kitt, and she was in the fields picking cotton before she was 8 years old.
She and her mother moved to New York after her father died, but her mother died shortly thereafter and Kitt was placed in custody of an aunt.
Honesty became almost a mania with the young woman and her outspoken manner often startled people around her. It even followed her into the White House in later years when, as a guest at the White House, she angrily told the first lady at that time, Lady Bird Johnson, that American youth was in rebellion because of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Kitt was one of more than 50 guests invited to the White House to discuss the president's proposals to combat crime in the streets.
Kitt became a member of the Dunham dancers and toured the world for almost five years before she struck out on her own as a nightclub chanteuse in Paris, where she wore slit-to-the-hip gowns and sang with a purr in her voice.
Kitt appeared in a number of films including "New Faces" (1953), "St. Louis Blues" (1957), "Anna Lucasta" (1958) and "The Saint of Devil's Island" (1961).
Kitt told her life story in a book, "Thursday's Child," published in 1956.
She married William O. McDonald in 1960. They separated in 1963 and later divorced. They had one child, a girl, Kitt.