Pearl Bailey

Active - 1947 - 1999  |   Born - Mar 29, 1918 in Newport News, Virginia, United States  |   Died - Aug 17, 1990   |   Genres - Musical, Drama, Romance, Music, Comedy

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Biography by Rovi

Spirited black singer and actress of stage and screen, Bailey is the daughter of a preacher. She started her performing career at age 15 after winning an amateur contest, then went on to tour as a dancer appeaedr as a singer-dancer with various jazz bands. Her big break came with her debut on Broadway in the musical St. Louis Woman; her performance earned her a "most promising newcomer of 1946" award. Bailey became known for her throaty, sexy voice, down-to-earth personality, and jokey mischievousness. Her screen debut came as a guest star in Variety Girl, in which she sang "Tired," her first major hit. She eventually appeared in a number of stage and screen musicals, as well as landing several straight roles. In the late '60s she was awarded a Tony for her work in the title role of the all-black version of Broadway's Hello Dolly! Bailey hosted her own TV variety show in 1971, but retired from show biz in 1975. Also in 1975, she was named to the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Her autobiography, The Raw Pearl, appeared in 1968.

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  • Dropped out of high school to focus on her entertainment career.
  • First appeared on Broadway in the mid-1940s in the musical St. Louis Woman, earning a Donaldson Award for Best Newcomer on Broadway.     
  • Authored several books, including the autobiography The Raw Pearl (1968). 
  • Appeared in numerous film roles and starred in a TV series, the Pearl Bailey Show, as a result of her successful stage career.
  • Graduated from college at age 67. She was inspired to earn her degree after being awarded an honorary doctorate several years earlier.  
  • Performed for troops at USO concerts and served as an ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Was awarded America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1988 for her artistic and humanitarian efforts.