Pearl Mae Bailey was born March 29, 1918 in Southampton County, Virginia. She made her stage debut at 15 when she won an amateur contest in Philadelphia. In 1941, during World War II, Bailey toured the country with the USO, singing and dancing for American troops.
In 1946, she made her Broadway debut in “St. Louis Woman.” In 1968, she received a Special Tony Award for the title role in the all-Black production of “Hello, Dolly!” Bailey also appeared in numerous feature films, including “Carmen Jones” (1954), “Porgy and Bess” (1959), and “Norman, Is That You” (1976). In 1986, she won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in Children’s Programming for her performance in “Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale.”
Bailey published her autobiography, “The Raw Pearl,” in 1968. In 1975, she was named to the United States delegation to the United Nations. Bailey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Ronald Reagan in 1988.