- Category : Entertainer
- Type : PSE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Upheaval 1
American entertainer in vaudeville, night clubs, films and records. One of America's most beloved show-stoppers, she was known as a singer, dancer, humorist, stage, film and TV actress, social and political activist, author and a wife and mother. She won a Tony Award for the title role in the all-black production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968. In 1986, she won a Daytime Emmy award for her performance as a fairy godmother in the ABC Afterschool Special, Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale.
The daughter of a Holy Roller-style revivalist, Bailey was the youngest of four kids and was singing in her dad's church choir by the time she was three. Her high cheekbones reflected the Cree Indians among her forebears. When she was 15, she won an amateur contest that held a $5.00 prize for a song and dance routine. In love with show business, she dropped out of school to become an entertainer. She was a chorus girl in Philadelphia nightclubs and worked the coal mining circuit during the height of the Depression. In 1944 she broke into major New York nightclubs where she cut her musical teeth working with such greats as Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and Cab Calloway.
In 1946 she was noted as the best newcomer on Broadway when she made her stage debut in St. Louis Woman. Her movie debut was a year later in Variety Girl. Her films include Carmen Jones, St. Louis Blues and Porgy And Bess, in which she played the cook shop woman. Her Broadway credits include Arms and the Girl and Bless You All. From January to May 1971, she had her own TV show, The Pearl Bailey Show.
Bailey's heart problems began in the early 1960s, but when she performed, everything else faded. It was not unusual for her to collapse from exhaustion or heart strain after a nightclub show, be given oxygen and insist on returning to the stage to belt out a second show.
Her long and successful career peaked when she was selected by David Merrick to play Dolly Levi in the black version of Hello Dolly (1967-1969), bringing audiences to their feet in standing ovations and winning a Tony. She said of her role that it gave her the change to "deliver what God gave me - and I'm dressed up besides."
Among her many awards, in 1970, President Nixon named her America's "ambassador of love" to the world. In 1975, President Ford named her special advisor to the U.S. Mission to the U.N. She was given an honorary degree from Georgetown University in 1978. The high school dropout enrolled as a freshman at that school and graduated in 1985 with an earned B.A. in theology. In 1988, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom.
Married five times (accounts vary from four to five as her earlier alliances were short term), she became the wife of six-year-younger Louis Bellson, a white jazz drummer, on 19 November 1952. It was a happy and enduring marriage and Bailey took great pride in their two adopted kids, Tony in 1954 and Dee Dee in 1960. Bailey wrote six books, including her autobiography, The Raw Pearl (1968).
On 11 July 1990 she had surgery to replace her left arthritic knee with a metal and plastic joint. With a 30-year history of heart problems, she entered the hospital again on 17 August 1990, feeling ill, and died 30 minutes later, at 6:12 PM in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.