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Pearl Bailey was just fifteen years old when she decided to go into show business. Her brother was coming into his own right as a tap dancer and knowing that his sister could sing, he talked her into performing at an amateur song and dance show in Philadelphia. An interesting note is that her brother, Bill Bailey, performed singer Michael Jackson's famous “Moonwalk” almost thirty years before the King of Pop first performed it in his “Billie Jean” music video. It was not called the moonwalk then but was rather known as the “backslide”.
Pearl Bailey was offered a job as a singer at the theater in Philadelphia after the amateur contest and was supposed to be paid thirty-five dollars a week. However, the theater went under during her engagement and she was never paid. Shortly after that, Bailey went to New York City and performed at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem and knew show business was the career that she really wanted and began performing all over the East Coast, mostly in black nightclubs.
After touring with the USO during World War II, Bailey settled in New York and in 1946, Pearl Bailey began her career on Broadway in the musical “St. Louis Woman”. Bailey also received her first Tony award for her performance in the all black ensemble of “Hello Dolly”, which was created by Cab Calloway. In her earlier nightclub career, she performed at clubs that were headlined by such greats as Calloway and Duke Eliington. Bailey recorded many albums over the years and even had her own television show in the 70's.
Pearl Bailey also lent her voice to such animation movies as Tubby the Tuba and Disney's “The Fox and the Hound in 1981 and even her earned her Bachelor's degree in Theology at Georgetown University in 1985. President Gerald Ford appointed her as special ambassador to the United Nations in 1975 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
During her illustrious career as a performer and author, Pearl Bailey was the epitome of a role model for young African-American women everywhere and was living proof that you can chase down your dreams.
Pearl Bailey died from an artery disease in 1990 but left a tremendous legacy behind and she definitely lived a full life.
It was this day in history, March 29, 1918 that Bailey was born.
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