Never formally trained in music, Pearl Bailey credited her love of music to growing up in a Holy Roller evangelical church where her father was the minister. In her early career in amateur shows and nightclubs she developed her throaty style, embellished with asides and ad libs.
Pearl Bailey sang with bands, later on stage and in films. The all-black version of Hello, Dolly! is one of her best-known roles; she played that role from 1967 to 1969 and in a later revival. Pearl Bailey was a frequent guest on television variety shows and had her own show on ABC in 1970-71.
At age 67, Pearl Bailey graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor's degree in theology. In 1968, 1971, 1973 and 1989 she published books on her life, cooking, and educational experiences. In 1975 Pearl Bailey served as a special ambassador to the United Nations and in 1988 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.