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The legendary Pearl Mae Bailey was born in Southampton County, Virginia and raised in the Bloodfields neighborhood of Newport News. As a young child Baily and her brother would sing and dance for their parents Rev. Joseph and Ella Mae Bailey, leaving no doubt that entertainment would be apart of their future. Bailey made her stage-singing debut when she was 15 years old. Her brother convinced her to head to the city of brotherly love where she entered an amateur contest at Philadelphia’s Pearl Theater. After winning first prize she continued up north, experiencing a similar fate, charming the crowd at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater into another first prize victory. The young actress realized her talents and headed back to Philadelphia to pursue a career in entertainment.

She began signing and dancing in black nightclubs in the 1930s until touring the country during World War II, performing for American troops. Her success as an entertainer accelerated in New York City when she made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman. In 1947 she performed in her first movie musical entitled Variety Girl, and never looked back from there. She stared in over 20 movie and television shows, performed in over a handful of Broadway plays, and recorded studio 28 albums.

In 1968 she received New York City’s Bronze Medallion for exceptional citizenship and outstanding achievement and in 1988 she was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.  Pearl Mae Bailey died August 17, 1990 at the age of 72 as one of Virginia’s original Divas.