The Celebrated film, television, and theatre star Pearl Bailey was
The daughter of a preacher, Bailey began singing at the age of three, by the time she was 15 she was wowing the audience at the Apollo Theater. Her professional career began soon after this, singing and dancing with jazz bands led by Edgar Hayes, Noble Sissle, and Cootie Williams. Bailey began performing as a solo act in 1944. She charmed night club audiences with her easygoing stage presence and humorous comments. During the mid-‘40s she briefly replaced Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Cab Calloway’s Orchestra, then went on to debut on Broadway in the musical St. Louis Woman alongside Mahalia Jackson, Eartha Kitt, and Nat King Cole. Bailey earned an award for the most promising newcomer, and made her first film, Variety Girl, in 1947.
In 1954, Bailey made her film debut in Carmen Jones and continued to perform regularly on stage and in other mediums. She won the Tony in 1968 for starring in the all-Black production of Hello, Dolly!, and a Daytime Emmy for her role in Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale. 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).
Bailey released over two dozen recordings during her career including her rendition of “Takes Two to Tango” which hit the top ten in 1952. She went on to pen 6 books and advocate for HIV/AIDS research. In 1988, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to the arts.
Though she had dropped out of school to become a performer, Bailey always wanted to complete her formal education. When she was in her sixties, she went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in theology from Georgetown University at the age of sixty-seven.
People all around the world had a deep affection for Pearl Bailey. Her sincerity, authenticity, and love for humanity translated on stage as well as it did in person, she was refered to as “The Ambassador of Love”.