Black HerStory Month: Pearl Bailey

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Born: Pearl Mae Bailey on March 29, 1918, in Southampton County, Virginia.

Died: August 17, 1990, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Occupation: Actress, singer

Years Active: 1936 – 1989

Known For: Winning a special Tony Award in 1968 for her title role in the all-black Broadway production of Hello, Dolly!


Pearl Bailey was an actress and singer born in Southampton County, Virginia. Bailey’s natural performing talent emerged while she was young, and by the age of 15 she made her stage singing debut.

After entering an amateur talent contest at the Pearl Theatre in Philadelphia, Bailey won and was offered $35 a week (~$636 today) to perform there for two weeks.

Unfortunately, before her two-week run had concluded, the theater closed and she wasn’t paid. However, it was a second performance at the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem that ultimately convinced her to pursue a career in entertainment.

In 1946, Bailey made her broadway debut in the production of St. Louis Woman. Her stage career culminated in her most well-known role as the title character in the Broadway production of Hello, Dolly!, for which she won a special Tony Award.

In addition to her successful stage career, Bailey also had distinguished film, television and recording careers.

Her debut film performance was in the 1947 film Variety Girls, in which she played herself. Her other film credits include roles in Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess, and the animated film The Fox and the Hound.

Bailey’s most distinguished television performances were a guest role on Faye Emerson’s Wonderful Town and a Daytime Emmy Award-winning performance as the fairy godmother in Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tail. She even hosted her own television variety series on ABC called The Pearl Bailey Show from January – May 1971.

Her recording career was no less impressive, spanning 31 albums. Her significant studio recordings included the original motion picture soundtrack of Porgy and Bess, and the Broadway recording of Hello, Dolly!.

During the later years of her career, Bailey wrote five books on topics ranging from cooking to her experiences in higher education. She also appeared on the nationally televised broadcast of the 50th Presidential Inaugural Gala.

Her final crowning achievements include receiving the Screen Actor’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 1976, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom on October 17th, 1988 from President Ronald Reagan.

This is Pearl Bailey’s story.

We hope you enjoyed!