Women of Black History: Pearl Bailey

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Pearl Bailey
Dates: March 29, 1918 – August 7, 1990
Occupation: singer, performer, stage, film, special ambassador

Never formally trained in music, Pear! Bailey credited her love of music to growing up in a “Holy Roller” evangelical church where her father was the minister. In her early career in amateur shows and nightclubs she developed her throaty style, embellished with asides and adlibs.

Pearl Bailey sang with hands, later on stage and in films. The all-black version of Hello Dolly is one of her best-Known roles; she played that role from 1967 to 1969 and in a later revival. Pearl Bailey was a frequent guest on television variety shows and had her own show on ABC in 1970-71. At age 67, Pearl Bailey graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in theology. In 1968, 1971, 1973 and 1989 she published books on her life, cooking, and educational experiences. In 1975 Pearl Bailey served as a special ambassador to the United Nations and in 1988 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Pear! Bailey was married three times. The last marriage, to drummer Louis Bellson, lasted 40 years. Together they adopted a daughter and a son.

Places: Newport News, Virginia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York City, United States

Organizations Religion: United Nations, Georgetown University, House of Prayer (“Holy Roller”)

Honors Include: Presidential Medal of Freedom

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