Wednesday, November 25, 2009


By: Cleo Brown

Pearl Bailey was considered The Ambassador of Love by many people with-in The Republican Party as well as around the world. Pearl Bailey was born in the same home town, of Newport News, Virginia, and in the same birth year as the legendary jazz singer, named Ella Fitzgerald, on March 29th, 1918. Bailey eventually served as a United Nations’ Goodwill Ambassador under several Republican Presidential Administrations. (Wikipedia,”Pearl Bailey Biography”, p.2)

Pearl’s given name at birth was Pearl Mae Bailey. Her father, who was named Joseph James, was an Evangelical Minister with his own church in Newport News, Virginia. It was through the members of the congregation of Joseph James’ Church that Pearl learned how to sing and to dance although she was a toddler. Pearl’s mother, named Ella Mae Bailey, divorced Joseph James when Pearl was four years old, however, moving Pearl and her siblings- first to Washington, D.C., and later to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pearl had two older sisters and an older brother named Willie. It was Willie, who was to introduce Pearl to show business, when Pearl entered her teen-age years.

Willie, himself, was a tap-dancer having been heavily influenced by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.( , Pearl Bailey Biography, “Life’s Work”, p.2) It is Bill Bailey who is credited with being the first to do the moon walk in the all black film entitled Cabin In The Sky in 1943. (Mike Mckinley, Pearl Bailey Biography,p.2)Pearl, consequently, at the age of fifteen, entered a talent contest in Philadelphia where her brother was a performer. She won the talent competition also securing work at the theater as a performer until the theater’s closing two weeks later. This first experience with show business was enough for Pearl to exchange her former dream of being a school teacher with that of being a performer.

Pearl next tackled The Apollo Theater in New York where, once again, she won first prize in an amateur night contest. (, p.2) Eventually, she ended up playing The Vaudeville Circuit in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. According to The American Theater Guild, Bailey’s “unique style was marked by an informal, broken delivery and sometimes slurred pronunciation.”(p.1) Pearl Bailey, subsequently, performed in the theaters, the night clubs, and with the jazz bands of The East Coast including performing with The Count Basie Band. (, Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: “Pearl Mae Bailey “, p. 1) Like Josephine Baker before her, however, Pearl Bailey felt that it was imperative that she perform overseas. With this in mind, she toured with The U.S.O. from 1941-1943. (Black Biography, “Pearl Bailey Biography” p.2) Pearl Bailey “‘honed’ he skills while entertaining the troops” overseas. (Black Biography, p.2) When she returned to the States she began performing solo in New York City nightclubs. In 1944 she joined Cab Calloway’s Band as a stand-in. She and Cab Calloway, despite Bailey’s four marriages, became very good friends in a relationship which was to last throughout Bailey’s lifetime.

Pearl Bailey made her Broadway stage debut in 1946 in the All Black Musical entitled St. Louis Woman. With-in the Musical she sang two songs entitled “A Woman’s Perogative” and “Legalize My Name” which, according to Black Biography, were the “highlights” of the show. (p.3) For her performance Pearl Bailey won The Donaldson Award as the best “newcomer” on Broadway in 1946. She made her film debut for Paramount Films in 1947 in Variety Girl in which, once again, Pearl sang a show-stopping song called “Tired.” “Tired” became one of her “signature” tunes. (Black Biography,p. 3) Bailey made one more film for Paramount called Isn’t it Romantic before returning to Broadway in 1954.

Pearl Bailey married her fourth husband, named Louis Bellson, in 1952. Before her marriage to Bellson, she had been married to John Randolph Pinkett. (Wikipedia, p. 1) Louis Bellson was a Caucasion jazz drummer. The couple had two adopted children together named Tony and DeeDee. With her marriage to Bellson came a period of enormous growth and productivity in Pearl Bailey’s film career although she continued to perform on Broadway. In 1954 she was a supporting performer playing Frankie in Carmen Jones. In 1959, she portrayed Maria in Porgy and Bess. She also had roles in That Certain Feeling, St. Louis Blues, and All The Fine Young Cannibals. Bailey had become so popular that she was invited to perform at President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Inauguration in 1957.

In 1967, Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway starred in an all black version of Hello Dolly! The tour as well as The Broadway run-of-the play was highly successful. Bailey won a special Tony Award for her role as Dolly Levi. (Wikipedia, p.2) According to Wikipedia, “Bailey {also} sang The National Anthem at Shea Stadium prior to game 5 of the 1969 World Series. She also {appeared} in the Series highlight film showing her support for the team.” (p. 2)

Pearl Bailey, in addition to singing at President Eisenhower’s Inauguration in 1957, and at The World Series in 1969 was a favorite not only of Democratic Presidents such as Lyndon Johnson, but also of Republican Presidents such as Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush Sr. Richard Nixon named Bailey to a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador’s position, which she worked, throughout his Presidential Administration. According to The National University Library League’s Graduate Research Paper Division, “Nixon used Pearl Bailey as a Goodwill Ambassador to defuse International political situations. If Brezhnev was getting testy, Nixon sent in Pearl Bailey to calm Brezhnev down.” (NULL, Woman of Honor, Woman of Truth: Pearl Bailey and Her Lullaby-like Effect on the American Electorate, 1967-1982, Kamplebahn; Adrian Morraine; 2007, University of Virginia) Although Democratic Presidents seemed to manifest little need for Bailey’s services throughout their Presidential Administrations, Bailey also fulfilled this useful function for other Republican Presidents until her death in 1990 at the age of seventy-two.

In 1985, Pearl Bailey was awarded a B.A. Degree in Theology from Georgetown University. In addition to her almost forty year marriage to Bellson and her long and successful career in Theater, Film, and Television, Pearl Bailey was also the subject of a sociological study which found that internationally, tensions eased after every appearance which Pearl Bailey made at The United Nations. (NULL) In addition to her political impact upon the world, when Pearl Bailey’s image was displayed on television in connection with any product “consumer confidence increased in that product: for months both before and after her appearance on television. (NULL) In her later years, she was a frequent guest on The Muppet Show and on Captain Kangaroo.

Her best friends in real life were Mahalia Jackson and Eartha Kitt. Even after the deflection of the majority of African-Americans from The Republican Party to The Democratic Party in 1964, Pearl Bailey remained with The Republican Party because The Republican Party was where she and Louis Bellson found the greatest acceptance for their interracial marriage. As a couple, under Republican Presidential Administrations, Bailey and Bellson were frequently invited to The White House. (New York Times, Wednesday, February 18th, 2009, “Louis Bellson Dies”)

Pearl Bailey, who died from a heart attack on August 17th, 1990 in her hotel room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is credited with having said “What the world really needs is more love and less paperwork.” (Pearl Bailey Biography at IMDb , p.2) Pearl Bailey hated paperwork. She was also eulogized by The Washington Post’s Joseph McLellan who called Bailey “America’s ambassador of love” adding: “She used her voice-and her heart- to become an eloquent advocate for the poor, oppresse3d and suffering, working to promote interracial harmony and more recently to help those worldwide suffering from AIDS.” (Pearl Bailey Biography at IMDb , p. 1) Pearl Bailey was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

Pearl Bailey was also an author having written the following books:

The Raw Pearl (1968) (Autobiography)

Talking to Myself (1971) (Autobiography)

Pearl’s Kitchen: An Extraordinary Cookbook (1973)

Duey’s Tale (1975)

Hurry Up America and Spit (1976)

Between You and Me: A Heartfelt Memoir on Learning, Loving, and Living (1989)

Pearl Bailey’s nickname was Dickie. (Pearl Bailey Biography at IMDb, p.1)

About The Author: Cleo E. Brown has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis in Davis, California. She also has a B.A. Minor Degree in Political-Science and has completed course work towards a Ph.D. in Education from The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. She is a Free Lance Writer and a Senior Editor at HHR.

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