Pearl Bailey

Pearl Mae Bailey (March 29, 1918 – August 17, 1990) was an African-American actress and singer. After appearing in vaudeville, she made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman in 1946.[1] She won a Tony Award for the title role in the all-black production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968. In 1986, she won a Daytime Emmy award for her performance as a fairy godmother in the ABC Afterschool Special, Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale. Her rendition of “Takes Two to Tango” hit the top ten in 1952.

On the Nat King Cole Show. Pearl’s hit song, “Two To Tango”

1964 On the Tonight Show. Very funny clip!!

Bailey was born in Southampton County, Virginia, to Rev. Joseph and Ella Mae Bailey, and raised in the Bloodfields neighborhood of Newport News, Virginia.

She made her stage-singing debut when she was 15 years old. Her brother Bill Bailey was beginning his own career as a tap dancer, and suggested she enter an amateur contest at Philadelphia’s Pearl Theater. She entered, won first prize, later won a similar contest at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater, and decided to pursue a career in entertainment.

Bailey began by singing and dancing in Philadelphia’s black nightclubs in the 1930s, and soon started performing in other parts of the East Coast. In 1941, during World War II, Bailey toured the country with the USO, performing for American troops. After the tour, she settled in New York. Her solo successes as a nightclub performer were followed by acts with such entertainers as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. In 1946, Bailey made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman. Bailey continued to tour and record albums in between her stage and screen performances.

“If My Friends Could See Me Now”

In 1954, she took the role of Frankie in the film version of Carmen Jones, and her rendition of “Beat Out That Rhythm on the Drum” is one of the highlights of the film. She also starred in the Broadway musical House of Flowers. In 1959, she played the role of Maria in the film version of Porgy and Bess, starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge. Also that year, she played the role of “Aunt Hagar” in the movie St. Louis Blues, alongside Mahalia Jackson, Eartha Kitt, and Nat King Cole. Though she was originally considered for the part of Annie Johnson in the 1959 film Imitation of Life, the part went to Juanita Moore, for which Moore received an Academy Award nomination.

In 1967, Bailey and Cab Calloway headlined an all-black cast version of Hello, Dolly! The touring version was so successful, producer David Merrick took it to Broadway where it played to sold-out houses and revitalized the long running musical. Bailey was given a special Tony Award for her role and RCA made a second original cast album.. That is the only recording of the score to have an overture which was written especially for that recording.

Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey, “Bill Bailey” 1969

Pearl and the Muppets

A passionate fan of the New York Mets, Bailey sang the national anthem at Shea Stadium prior to game 5 of the 1969 World Series. She also appears in the Series highlight film showing her support for the team.

During the 1970s she had her own television show, and she also provided voices for animations such as Tubby the Tuba (1976) and Disney‘s The Fox and the Hound (1981). She returned to Broadway in 1975, playing the lead in an all-black production of Hello, Dolly!. She earned a B.A. in theology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1985.

Later in her career, Bailey was a fixture as a spokesperson in a series of Duncan Hines commercials, singing “Bill Bailey (Won’t You Come Home)”.

On November 19, 1952, Bailey married jazz drummer Louie Bellson in London. They adopted a child, Tony, in the mid-1950’s, and subsequently a girl, Dee Dee J. Bellson, born April 20, 1960. Tony Bellson died in 2004, and DeeDee Bellson at age 48, died July 4, 2009, 5 months after her father, Louis Bellson, who died on Valentine’s Day 2009.

Bailey, a Republican, was appointed by President Richard Nixon as America’s “Ambassador of Love” in 1970. She attended several meetings of the United Nations and later took part in a campaign ad for President Gerald Ford in the 1976 election.

She was awarded the Bronze Medallion (New York City award) in 1968 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom on October 17, 1988.

Louie Bellson, Pearl Bailey, Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops Orchestra. Charlie Chaplin’s, “Smile”

From “Carol Channing & Pearl Bailey: On Broadway” 1969 “Little Green Apples”

Pearl Bailey died at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia on August 17, 1990. Following an autopsy, Dr. Emanuel Rubin, professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology at Jefferson Medical College, announced the cause of death as arteriosclerotic coronary artery disease with significant narrowing of the coronary artery. She is buried at Rolling Green Memorial Park in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Bailey is paid tribute in the TV show American Dad!, where the high school that Steve Smith attends is called Pearl Bailey High School.

Burt Bacharach’s “Wives and Lovers” 1969

Quick Bio Facts:

Pearl Bailey

Pearl Bailey AKA Pearl Mae Bailey

Born: 29-Mar1918
Birthplace: Newport News, VA
Died: 17-Aug1990
Location of death: Philadelphia, PA
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Chester, PA

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Singer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Appointed by Nixon as Ambassador of Love

Appointed by Richard M. Nixon in 1970 as “Ambassador of Love.”

Father: Joseph (minister)
Mother: Ella Mae
Husband: Louie Bellson (3rd, drummer, m. 1952, until her death, 1 son and 1 daughter adopted)

University: BA Theology, Georgetown University (1985, at age 67)

Presidential Medal of Freedom 1988
Tony 1967 for the black version of Hello, Dolly!
Hollywood Walk of Fame 7080 Hollywood Blvd (recordings)

Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale (9-Oct-1985)
The Fox and the Hound (10-Jul-1981) [VOICE]
Norman… Is That You? (29-Sep-1976)
The Landlord (20-May-1970)
All the Fine Young Cannibals (22-Sep-1960)
Porgy and Bess (24-Jun-1959)
St. Louis Blues (7-Apr-1958)
That Certain Feeling (4-Jun-1956)
Carmen Jones (5-Oct-1954)

Sources: YouTube, Wikipedia,,

  • Mike and Pearl (1968)
  • Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey: On Broadway (1969)
  • The Pearl Bailey Show (1971)
    (midseason replacement series)
  • All-Star Salute to Pearl Bailey (1979)
  • The Member of the Wedding (1982)
  • As the World Turns (cast member in 1982)
  • Peter Gunn (1989) (unsold pilot)


  • Pearl Bailey Entertains (1950)
  • Birth of the Blues (1952)
  • Cultured Pearl (1952)
  • I’m with You (1953)
  • Say Si Si (1953)
  • Carmelina (1955)
  • The Intoxicating Pearl Bailey (1956)
  • The One and Only Pearl Bailey Sings (1956)
  • Gems by Pearl Bailey (1958)
  • Pearl Bailey A-Broad (1959)
  • Pearl Bailey Sings for Adults Only (1959)
  • Pearl Bailey Plus Margie Anderson Singing the Blues (1960?)
  • More Songs for Adults Only (1960)
  • Naughty But Nice (1960)
  • Songs of the Bad Old Days (1960)
  • Pearl Bailey Sings the Songs of Harold Arlen (1961)
  • Come On, Let’s Play with Pearlie Mae (1962)
  • Happy Sounds (1962)
  • All About Good Little Girls and Bad Little Boys (1963)
  • C’est La Vie (1963)
  • Les Poupées de Paris (1964)
  • Songs By James Van Heusen (1964)
  • The Risque World of Pearl Bailey (1964)
  • For Women Only (1965)
  • The Jazz Singer (1965)
  • Hello, Dolly! (1967 Broadway cast)
  • After Hours (1969)
  • Pearl’s Pearls (1971)
  • The Raw Pearl (1968) (autobiography)
  • Talking to Myself (1971) (autobiography)
  • Pearl’s Kitchen: An Extraordinary Cookbook (1973)
  • Duey’s Tale (1975)
  • Hurry Up America and Spit (1976)
  • Between You and Me: A Heartfelt Memoir on Learning, Loving, and Living (1989)

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s