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Pearl Bailey and Louie Bellson Wed despite His Father's Intermarriage Objection and Threats to Disown Him

Oyin Balogun
Jul 26, 2021
04:20 A.M.
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Pearl Bailey is perhaps best known for portraying Dolly Levi in the all-black Broadway production of "Hello, Dolly!" However, many don't know about the struggles she passed through just to wed the love of her life. Get informed.


Pearl Bailey was famous for being a talented singer, dancer, comedian, and actress; however, the beautiful woman thought of herself quite differently. She once described herself as a "humorist" who told stories to music and in tune.

Bailey, a woman, once tagged America's "ambassador of love," was almost denied a chance at it when she found herself falling for a white drummer who eventually rebelled against his father to marry her at a time when racism was still rampant in the country, and interracial marriages were discouraged. Here's their story.

American singer Pearl Bailey (1918 - 1990) and jazz drummer Louie Bellson (1924 - 2009) in London shortly before their wedding, 17th November 1952. | Photo: Getty Images



Before she met Louie Bellson, Bailey allegedly had a number of marriages under her belt. However, there are conflicting reports on just how many men could call her ex-wife.

Some sources say four while others choose three, but actually, none can ascertain the figures, and none of her alleged husbands are known.

Bellson was the son of a music store owner who grew up to become a jazz drummer and composer. He started playing drums at a young age, and the '40s saw him play on stage with big bands of artists like Benny Goodman, Harry James, and Duke Ellington.


Publicity photo of Pearl Bailey in 1961 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, Public Domain

Not much is known about how they met; however, the love they shared was so strong that he boarded a flight to London in November 1952 to marry her— a step his father specifically forbade him to take.


In a bid to thwart the wedding, the persistent man even sent Bailey a strongly-worded letter that asked her to back out from the wedding. Apparently, Bellson Sr. was not in the mood to "have a colored granddaughter."

Pearl Bailey and Louie Bellson Jr. pictured at their home in London, November 29, 1952 | Photo: Getty Images


Mrs. Carmen Bellson, his ex-wife and the mother to Bellson Jr., did not very much mind the union, and reports claim she opened her home to them in support.

Bailey's mother, Mrs. Ella Robinson, also shared the same mindset. She believed that color was of no importance and that she would treat Bellson the same way she treated the rest of her sons-in-law.

Pearl Bailey performing "Before the Parade Passes By" on "The Ed Sullivan Show," June, 1968 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, Public Domain



Bellson and Bailey finally tied the knot on November 19, 1952, in the iconic Caxton Hall — a registry office where many high-profile people celebrated civil marriages.

Bailey battled with heart problems for the last two decades of her life.

Actor Jose Ferrer served as the best man, but heavy rain and traffic delayed his arrival, so he was replaced by Siegi Sessler, a London nightclub owner.


For the ceremony, Bailey wore a white and blue dress under a mink coat while Bellson had to make do with a borrowed suit because he didn't arrive as scheduled.

The two could not tamp down their joy as they arrived together at the hall, which was filled with the paparazzi and a band that serenaded them as they exited the place.

The wedding reception was held at the Polish Club in Mayfair and was attended by 50 guests, including Bailey's best friend Cab Calloway and some of the British cast of "Porgy and Bess."

Pearl Bailey and Louie Bellson in London shortly before their wedding, November 17, 1952 | Photo: Getty Images


It was a joyful event; Bellson provided entertainment by playing the drums while his wife could not stop gushing about how happy they were. At the time, Bellson was 28, and Bailey was 34.

Bellson was certain his father, who he described as "too nice a guy," would come around eventually. Bailey was not so naive and instead believed that Bellson Sr. would have to accept that his son would live his life.

Louie Bellson and Pearl Bailey at the Cue Awards on January 3, 1969 | Photo: Getty Images



Bailey and her husband did not take long to consummate their marriage with children. After their marriage, they adopted a boy named Tony, and a few years later, they welcomed their daughter Dee–Dee in 1960.

The children often tagged along with Bailey and quickly developed a passion for music. Dee grew up to become a vocalist who toured with several jazz groups, including her father's, while Tony became a drummer like his father.

A black and white photo of Pearl Bailey taken in 1960 with an autograph of the actress | Photo, Wikimedia Commons Images, By Marvin Smith CC0


Speaking about raising her kids, Bailey once compared it to cooking hamburgers. "We cook [them] and put all the little morsels on—training, discipline, love—but we're not making well-done hamburgers," she said in 1968. "We're turning out tartar steak."

Both heirs have passed; Tony died in 2004, and Dee-Dee died from a heart attack on July 4, 2009. Their father had only just passed five months before at the age of 84.

Pearl Bailey and her daughter Dee Dee Bellson for the CBS special "All-Star Salute to Pearl Bailey," March 14, 1979 | Photo: Getty Images


Bailey battled with heart problems for the last two decades of her life and was recovering from a knee replacement surgery when she collapsed on August 17, 1990.

The singer gave up the fight at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She was 72 when it happened, so Louie Bellson witnessed it. All he said at the time of her demise was, "I've lost my best friend."

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