Today is the 105th birthday of the entertainer Pearl Bailey. My family and I saw her perform in Disneyland in 1981. She left behind an impressive amount of work. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Pearl Bailey
DATE OF BIRTH: 29-Mar-1918
PLACE OF BIRTH: Newport News, VA
DATE OF DEATH: 17-Aug-1990
PLACE OF DEATH: Philadelphia, PA
CAUSE OF DEATH: unspecified
REMAINS: Buried, Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Chester, PA
FATHER: Joseph (minister)
MOTHER: Ella Mae
HUSBAND: Louie Bellson (3rd, drummer, m. 1952, until her death, 1 son and 1 daughter adopted)
Presidential Medal of Freedom 1988
Tony 1967 for the black version of Hello, Dolly!
Hollywood Walk of Fame 7080 Hollywood Blvd (recordings)
BEST KNOWN FOR: Pearl Mae Bailey was an American actress and singer. After appearing in vaudeville she made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman in 1946.
Bailey was born in Newport News, Virginia, United States, to the Reverend Joseph James and Ella Mae Ricks Bailey. She was raised in the Bloodfields neighborhood of Newport News, Virginia. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in nearby Norfolk, Virginia, the first city in the region to offer higher education for black students. Blues singer Ruth Brown from Portsmouth, Virginia was one of her classmates.
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 the Pearl Theatre in Philadelphia. Bailey won and was offered $35 a week to perform there for two weeks. However, the theatre closed during her engagement and she was not paid. She later won a similar competition 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. For her performance, she won a Donaldson Award as the best Broadway newcomer. Bailey continued to tour and record albums in between her stage and screen performances. Early in the television medium, Bailey guest starred on CBS’s Faye Emerson’s Wonderful Town.
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 Victor 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.
Bailey hosted her own variety series on ABC, The Pearl Bailey Show (January – May 1971) which featured many notable guests, including Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong (one of his last appearances before his death).
Following her 1971 television series, she 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!. In October 1975, she was invited by Betty Ford to sing for the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in a White House state dinner, as part of Middle-Eastern peace initiative.
She earned a degree in theology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1985 at age 67. At Georgetown she was a student of the philosopher Wilfrid Desan.
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)”. She also appeared in commercials for Jell-O, and Westinghouse. She also did some free-spirited commercials for Paramount Chicken.
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. Her last book, Between You and Me (1989), details her experiences with higher education. On January 19, 1985, she appeared on the nationally televised broadcast of the 50th Presidential Inaugural Gala, the night before the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan. In 1988 Bailey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan.
On November 19, 1952, Bailey married the jazz drummer Louie Bellson in London.
They later adopted a son, Tony, in the mid-1950s. A daughter, Dee Dee J. Bellson, was born April 20, 1960. Tony Bellson died in 2004. Dee Dee Bellson died on July 4, 2009, at the age of 49, five months after her father, 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 appeared in a campaign ad for President Gerald Ford in the 1976 election.
She was awarded the Bronze Medallion in 1968, the highest award conferred upon civilians by New York City.
Bailey was a very good friend of actress Joan Crawford. In 1969, Crawford and Bailey joined fellow friend Gypsy Rose Lee in accepting a USO Award. In the same year, Bailey was recognized as USO “Woman of the Year”. Upon the death of Crawford in May 1977, Bailey spoke of Crawford as her sister before singing a hymn at her funeral. U.S. Ambassador and American socialite Perle Mesta was another close friend of Bailey. In the waning days of Mesta’s life, Bailey visited her frequently and sang hymns for her.
Pearl Bailey died at 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 arteriosclerosis, with significant narrowing of the coronary artery. Bailey is buried at Rolling Green Memorial Park in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Pearl Bailey Entertains (1950) and 1953
Birth of the Blues (1952)
Cultured Pearl (1952)
I’m with You (1953)
Say Si Si (1953)
Around the World with Me (1954)
The Intoxicating Pearl Bailey (1956)
The One and Only Pearl Bailey Sings (1956)
Gems by Pearl Bailey (1958)
Porgy & Bess, original motion picture soundtrack (1959) (Grammy Award winner)
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)
Variety Girl (1947) – Pearl Bailey – Singer
Isn’t It Romantic? (1948) – Addie
Carmen Jones (1954) – Frankie
That Certain Feeling (1956) – Augusta aka Gussie
St. Louis Blues (1958) – Aunt Hagar
Porgy and Bess (1959) – Maria
All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960) – Ruby
The Landlord (1970) – Marge
Tubby the Tuba (1975) – Mrs. Elephant (voice)
Norman… Is That You? (1976) – Beatrice Chambers
The Fox and the Hound (1981) – Big Mama – Owl (voice)
The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom (prior to 1960) – Herself
The Andy Williams Show (1963) – Herself
Mike and Pearl (1968) – Herself
Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey: On Broadway (1969) – Herself
The Pearl Bailey Show (1971)
(midseason replacement series) – Herself – Host / Singer
The Carol Burnett Show (1972) – Guest Star
One More Time (1974), a CBS musical comedy special
with Carol Channing, George Burns and others – Herself
The Love Boat (1977) – Millie Washington
All-Star Salute to Pearl Bailey (1979) – Herself
The Muppet Show (1979) – Herself
The Member of the Wedding (1982) – Bernice Sadie Brown
As the World Turns (cast member in 1982) – Herself
Peter Gunn (1989) (unsold pilot) – Mother (final television appearance)