Black News and News Makers in History: Pearl Bailey

Black news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Pearl Bailey this week in Black history.Pearl Bailey was born March 29, 1918 in Newport News, Virginia.  Bailey was the daughter of the Reverend Joseph James and Ella Mae Bailey.  She attributed much of her vocal ability to her childhood singing in church.

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

In 1933, at the age of 15, she quit high school in Philadelphia for a career as a singer and dancer. She appeared in cafés, nightclubs, and theatres in northeastern American cities, and, at times, she sang with big bands, including those led by Cootie Williams and Count Basie.

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. She recorded several albums with each. An eight-month stint at the Blue Angel in New York City (1944–45) led to her joining Cab Calloway for theatre and nightclub engagements.

Black news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Pearl Bailey this week in Black history.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. 

In 1947, she appeared in her first film, ‘Variety Girl’.

Her rendition of "Takes Two to Tango" hit the top ten in 1952.

On November 19, 1952, Bailey married jazz drummer Louie Bellson in London.  They adopted a child, Tony, in the mid-1950s. 

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.

Bailey continued to sing in a number of night clubs throughout her film career.  In 1960, she again took a secondary role in ‘All the Fine Young Cannibals’ after which she returned almost exclusively to nightclub work.

Also in 1960, Bailey gave birth to a daught, Dee Dee J. Bellson. 

Her most memorable stage role was as matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in an all-black production of the musical ‘Hello, Dolly!’ where she headed with Cab Calloway first on Broadway (1967–69), then on tour in the United States and Canada (1969–71, 1975–76).

In 1968, Bailey was given a special Tony Award for her title role in ‘Hello Dolly!’ 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.

Also in 1968, she awarded the Bronze Medallion (a New York City award).

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, and appears in the Series highlight film showing her support for the team. She also sang the national anthem prior to game 1 of the 1981 World Series between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers at Yankee Stadium.

During the 1970s, she had her own television show and made frequent television appearances. 

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 appeared in a campaign ad for President Gerald Ford in the 1976 election. 

In 1976, she provided voices for animations such as ‘Tubby the Tuba’. 

In 1981, she provided voices for the animation of Disney's ‘The Fox and the Hound’.

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)".

In her later years, Bailey wrote several books: ‘The Raw Pearl’ (1968), ‘Talking to Myself’ (1971), ‘Pearl's Kitchen’ (1973), and ‘Hurry Up America and Spit’ (1976).

In 1975, she was appointed special ambassador to the United Nations by President Gerald Ford.

In 1985, at age 67, she enrolled in Georgetown University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in theology.  Her last book, ‘Between You and Me’ (1989), details her experiences with higher education.

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’.

In 1988, Bailey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan.

Pearl Bailey died on August 17, 1990 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.  The cause of death was arteriosclerotic coronary artery disease with significant narrowing of the coronary artery.

Her adoptive child, Tony Bellson, died in 2004 and her daughter, Dee Dee Bellson, died at age 49 in 2009 five months after her father, Louis Bellson, who died on Valentine's Day 2009.

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

Pearl Bailey remains an American entertainer notable for her sultry singing and mischievous humor.

Acting Credits


  • Variety Girl (1947)
  • Isn't It Romantic? (1948)
  • Carmen Jones (1954)
  • That Certain Feeling (1956)
  • St. Louis Blues (1958)
  • Porgy and Bess (1959)
  • All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960)
  • The Landlord (1970)
  • Tubby the Tuba (1975) (voice)
  • Norman... Is That You? (1976)
  • The Fox and the Hound (1981) (voice)


  • The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom (prior to 1960)
  • 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)


  • St. Louis Woman (March 30 - July 6, 1946) (Broadway)
  • Arms and the Girl (February 2 - May 27, 1950) (Broadway)
  • Bless You All (December 13, 1950 - February 24, 1951) (Broadway)
  • House of Flowers (December 30, 1954 - May 21, 1955)
  • Call Me Madam (1966) (Melodyland Theater)
  • Hello, Dolly! (November 21, 1967–1969) (Broadway and national tour)
  • Hello, Dolly! (November 6 - December 28, 1975) (Broadway)

Singing Credits

  • 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)
  • For Adult Listening (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)

Compiled from Wikipedia and http://www.biography.com/articles/Pearl-Bailey-9195451.

Click here for some Pearl Bailey Quotes.