Pearl Bailey made her Broadway debut in the show St. Louis Woman in 1946 and was a legend of stage and screen ever since. Born in southeastern Virginia on March 29, 1918, Bailey started in vaudeville and would go on win a Tony Award for the title role in the all African-American production of Hello Dolly in 1968.
Among her notable screen credits was the role of Frankie in the film Carmen Jones, which included her rendition of the song “Beat Out That Rhythm on the Drum.” After that, she played the role of Maria in the film version of Porgy and Bess, which starred Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge. She also played the role of Aunt Hagar in the film St. Louis Blues with Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole and Eartha Kitt.
In the 1970s, Bailey stared in her own television shows and did voices for animated films such as Tubby the Tuba and Disney’s The Fox and the Hound. Later in her life, she earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Georgetown University in 1985, at the age of 76.
Bailey died in 1990 in Philadelphia at the age of 72.
(Photo by R. Gates/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)