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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

If you've just tuned in, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY")

EARTHA KITT: (Singing) While tearing off a game of golf, I may make a play for the caddy. But when I do, I don't follow through, 'cause my heart belongs to Daddy.

WESTERVELT: Singer and actress Eartha Kitt embraced the term sex kitten that was often assigned to her for her naughty, come hither stage persona. Kitt died in 2008. She continued to perform well into her 70s. That's when an inspiring jazz singer named Rene Marie got to see her on stage for the first time.

RENE MARIE: My mouth was hanging open like everybody else's. I was drooling. Ah, she was scandalous.

WESTERVELT: Rene Marie recently turned that passion for Eartha Kitt into a tribute album. It's called "I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY")

MARIE: (Singing) So I want to warn you ladies, though I think you're perfectly sweet, that my heart belongs to Daddy, because my Daddy, he treats it so well.

WESTERVELT: Rene Marie took a remarkable path to jazz. In her early 40s, she left her husband and her religion, Jehovah's Witness. She quit her job at a bank and followed her passion for jazz. As a child, Rene Marie watched Eartha Kitt play Cat Woman on the old Batman TV show. She says that became an early memory of empowerment.

MARIE: The first 10 years of my life, I lived under Jim Crow laws in Warrenton, Virginia. And so, seeing this black woman on TV with all white people, telling them what to do and just being mean and evil and reveling in it, it was almost frightening. Uh-oh, something bad is going to happen to her, because this just didn't happen. So it was a huge eye opener for me.

She's like the perfect person to deliver the lyrics of the Cole Porter tunes, because as we know, Cole Porter wrote so many tongue-and-cheek lyrics and double entendres and suggestive lyrics, and who better to do that except Eartha Kitt.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S DO IT (LET'S FALL IN LOVE)")

MARIE: (Singing) That's why birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Let's do it, let's fall in love.

When we do it live, you know, I introduced the song, everybody knows the tune, let's do it right. And I say, how does it go? And the audience starts singing, bird do it. They're really cute and light. I was like, yeah, we don't do it like that at all. Here's how we're going to do it. We're going to put some blues up in there.

WESTERVELT: Yeah, it's great.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S DO IT (LET'S FALL IN LOVE)")

MARIE: (Singing) The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it. Not to mention the Finns. Folks in Siam do it, just think of Siamese twins. Some Argentines, without means, do it.

WESTERVELT: I want to do a little compare and contrast here. Let's take a listen to Eartha Kitts version of "I Want to Be Evil."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA BE EVIL")

KITT: (Singing) I've posed for pictures with Ivory soap. I've petted stray dogs and shied to clear of dope.

WESTERVELT: You're pretty faithful to the original at first.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA BE EVIL")

MARIE: (Singing) My smile is brilliant. My glance is tender. But I'm noted most for my unspoiled gender.

WESTERVELT: But where Eartha swings a bit..

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA BE EVIL")

KITT: (Singing) Like something that seeks its level, I want to go to the devil. I wanna be evil.

WESTERVELT: You really take the tempo up there. You start to rock out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA BE EVIL")

MARIE: (Singing) I wanna to be evil. I want to hurt flies. I wanna do things that scare, do lies.

WESTERVELT: Did you wrestle at all with how much to stay true to Eartha's takes versus...

MARIE: Never. As a matter of fact, I tried my best to get as far away from her versions as possible because I was so worried, oh, I don't want anybody to think I'm trying to sound like Eartha. Who could do that?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA BE EVIL")

MARIE: (Singing) And then the theater, I want to change my seat just so I can step on everybody's feet. I wanna be evil.

I've got to tell the truth. What woman doesn't want to say that I want to be evil? You know, we're just told to be good girls, don't ruffle any feathers, don't do this, don't, don't, don't. And then here's this great tune. I'm tired of being good. I want to be evil.

So I've actually thrown out a suggestion to the women in the audience when we do this live that they video themselves singing this, you know, buy a little get-up, video tape themselves singing it, and then send it to me so I can put it on my YouTube or my website.

WESTERVELT: Interesting. You've got a little collection of "I Wanna be Evil" videos on your website now?

MARIE: Not yet. I haven't gotten one, I haven't gotten one. But I have a feeling that they are coming.

WESTERVELT: They're coming. After this interview they're coming.

MARIE: I hope so.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA BE EVIL")

MARIE: (Singing) Ha ha ha, as evil as I can be.

WESTERVELT: I'm speaking with singer Rene Marie about her latest album, "I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt." It always seemed that she took on a bit of a character when she performed her music. I mean, she was the playful, bad girl, the temptress. Did you do a bit of that too? I mean, did you get into character a little to record these songs?

MARIE: No. It's not a matter of getting into character for me. What it is is simply disrobing what's already there, uncovering what typically stays covered up. So being vulnerable enough to go to those places that the songs just were dying for, you for me to go to. Any time you sing a song, like, "Oh, John," you just have to surrender to what the lyrics are.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, JOHN")

MARIE: (Singing) Oh, John, please don't kiss me. Oh, John, please don't kiss.

I've gotten some criticism for some of the songs like that, but it's cool.

WESTERVELT: Why's that?

MARIE: Because, the lyric is Oh, John, please don't kiss me. Oh, John, please don't kiss.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, JOHN")

MARIE: (Singing) Oh, John, please don't hold me. Oh, John, please don't hold.

Basically, John is doing whatever he wants to do and seducing this woman. And some people have taken it to mean that it's OK for someone to continue forcing themselves on someone else in spite of being told no. And I've had women approach me afterwards and say, why did you sing that song?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, you wrote in the liner notes that, you know, you had the most trouble with "Oh, John," 'cause the music moves sort of closer and closer to the forbidden, but no apologies.

MARIE: None whatsoever. I did have to pull my husband aside and say, mm-uh, about that "Oh, John" song.

WESTERVELT: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, JOHN")

MARIE: (Singing) Please don't touch me. Oh, John, please don't touch. Oh, John, please don't. Oh, John, please. Oh, John.

WESTERVELT: You care a lot about social issues, and your past albums reflect that, Rene. I mean, you've taken on racism and homelessness and inequality. Yet, this album is pretty much all fun, almost tongue-in-cheek. I mean, is this the pure playful and fun side of Rene Marie?

MARIE: It is so much fun. I had no idea how much fun I would have doing these songs. I mean, I love it. And as a matter of fact, I'm kind of dreading my next project because if I do my original stuff, it's going to be all fun like this one is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'D RATHER BE BURNED AS A WITCH")

MARIE: (Singing) They said that I'm a witch, that I weave a spell. Well, I'll be a son of L and what the, well, let me tell you I'd rather be burned as a witch, than never be burned all.

WESTERVELT: Rene Marie, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you so much.

MARIE: It's been my pleasure. Thank you very, very much. I've enjoyed talking to you.

WESTERVELT: That's Rene Marie. Her latest album is a tribute to Eartha Kitt called "I Wanna Be Evil."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'D RATHER BE BURNED AS A WITCH")

MARIE: (Singing) ...to unglue you, and all of the hex of the weaker sex to boo-do-dupe-dupe-do-do-you. They said that I'm a witch, that I weave a spell. Well, I'll be a son of a L, well, let me tell you I'd rather be burned as a witch than never be burned at all...

WESTERVELT: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app, and follow us on Twitter @NPRWATC. I'm @EricNPR.

Tomorrow, I'll visit to a middle school in San Francisco where something different's happening. Kids with disabilities aren't relegated to a special classroom. Instead, they're being included in all classrooms.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Just by looking, you can't necessarily tell me who's the gifted the kid and who's the kid with a disability.

WESTERVELT: Inclusion, it's not always a simple process, and it's the subject of a hot debate. That's tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great Saturday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'D RATHER BE BURNED AS A WITCH")

MARIE: (Singing) ...ooh, what the hell. Baby, I'd rather be burned as a witch, than never to burn at all. Got a match? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, ha, ha, ha.

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