Most know Eartha Kitt as the legendary actress and singer, but for Kitt Shapiro, she was known as ‘mom’.
In an interview with Craig Melvin on TODAY Monday, Shapiro explained the superstar’s role as a parent and shared that Kitt tucked her into bed every single night.
“The Eartha Kitt who lived at home truly was real and grounded,” Shapiro, whose new book “Eartha & Kitt” details the duo’s mother-daughter relationship, told TODAY.
Kitt captivated audiences in the U.S. for nearly six decades with her iconic voice and beauty. Once dubbed ‘the most exciting woman in the world’, the Emmy winner and Tony and Grammy nominee was most proud of her daughter.
“She was always a mother first,” Shapiro said. “She was proudest of me and I don’t say that in an egotistical way.”
Though Kitt passed on Christmas Day in 2008 from colon cancer, Shapriro said the lessons she learned from her mother starting at a young age have stuck, particularly when it comes to race.
“She felt that boxes keep you apart,” Kitt shared of her mother, who faced racism because of her mixed-race heritage. “She didn’t understand why it was necessary to be categorized as gospel or jazz, because she was Black.
Shapiro explained that her mother didn’t feel the need to pigeonhole or categorize people.
"When you ask questions of others and you learn about their beliefs and their traditions, then you have the ability to have more compassion," she said. "We’re all on this planet...and entitled to be here. We don’t have the right to treat each other differently just because of the color of our skin."
The only daughter of Kitt, Shapiro, who admits she has been criticized for 'white passing' recalled a trip to a South African theme park.
“I was allowed to be there, and not questioned and when I came with my mother, she was asked to leave, because it was a whites only park,” she shared,
Shapiro said she couldn't understand at the time why her mother left without causing a scene.
"She didn’t react, because she knew at some point she would be able to hopefully make a difference given that she had some fame and notoriety," Shapiro said. "When the owner of that park found out what happened, he was very embarrassed. She said 'We would like you to contribute to this charity that we’re doing to build schools for Africa children, as well as my daughter would love to come back with some of her friends.'"
When Kitt and Shapiro returned to the park, they brought a large group of mixed-race children with them.
"Did she affect huge change in the country at the time? No, but she knew it takes just enough small impacts to make big changes,” Shapiro said.