When the Prop Theatre prematurely announced plans to bring Eartha Kitt to town last fall, a buzz of excitement passed among lovers of cabaret; but that gig fell through. So it's a coup for the Illinois Federation for Human Rights, the state's most effective gay and lesbian political group, that the legendary singer-actor will instead make her first Chicago appearance in more than a decade at its annual benefit concert. On her latest album, Back in Business (DRG), she makes a welcome return to the smoky nightclub sound that made her a star in New Faces of 1952, when she comically complained of her "Monotonous" love life (her shivery purr suggested that what was ennui for her would be ecstasy for anyone else). After a questionable fling with disco-diva camp, Kitt has returned to sensuous bluesy ballads; on record her husky voice and growling, half-spoken delivery put a distinctive stamp on tunes by Weill (a swooning, sambafied "Speak Low"), Ellington (a moodily ruminative "Solitude"), Carmichael ("The Nearness of You"), and even Mancini (a dark, unsentimental "Moon River" that places us on the other side of the moon). With a singing style that crosses continental inflections with a Carolina drawl and a sense of drama heightened by her years as a stage and screen actor and a member of Katherine Dunham's dance troupe, Kitt is one of classic pop's most unorthodox artists. Also on the bill is lesbian comic Suzanne Westenhoefer. Thursday, August 3, 8 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 477-7173 or 559-1212.