This Day in Black History: March 29, 1918

Entertainer Pearl Bailey was born in Southampton County, Virginia.

Posted: 03/29/2013 08:00 AM EDT

Hello, Dolly! These two words will be forever associated with the actress and singer Pearl Bailey, who won a Tony Award for the title role in an all-Black production of the play of the same name. Born on March 29, 1918, in Newport News, Virginia, Bailey began singing in public at age 3 at her Pentecostal preacher father's church. At age 15, she won a talent contest at the prophetically named Pearl Theater in Philadelphia.

An obvious talent, Bailey dropped out of high school to perform vaudeville, appearing on stage with the likes of Count Basie, Noble Sissle and others. She debuted on Broadway in 1946, in the musical St. Louis Woman, winning an award for Best Broadway Newcomer. Her first appearance on film came the following year when she sang the song "Tired" in the film Variety Girl.

In addition to publishing three memoirs, Bailey served as a U.S. Ambassador of Love under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and as a Goodwill Ambassador under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

At age 60, Bailey enrolled at Georgetown University and earned an undergraduate degree in theology. Other honors include a Presidential Medal of Freedom she was presented by Reagan, before suffering a heart attack on August 17, 1990.


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 (Photo: Evening Standard/Getty Images)

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