Singer Performers

Great singers seldom limit themselves to a single art. Many become actors, and not simply with walk-on parts; they become Academy Award winners like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, or a No. 1 box office star like Doris Day. Fred Astaire was the country’s greatest dancer but he was also a talented singer. Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson acted some, but their great achievement was mastering live performances. Pearl Bailey performed on Broadway and was the first African American to play the title role in “Dolly.” And Julie London had a second career as a television actress. It’s no surprise that a great singer would also be a talented actor. To put across the meaning of lyrics, they had to approach a song as a script to a dramatic vignette.

Image of Fred AstaireFRED ASTAIRE (1899 –1987) was a dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, and television presenter.  His most memorable dancing partnership was with Ginger Rogers, with whom he co-starred in ten Hollywood musicals. The American Film Institute named Astaire the fifth-greatest male star of Classic Hollywood cinema in 100 Years.


Image of Lena HorneLENA HORNE (1917–2010) was a dancer, actress and singer, her career spanning over 70 years. She started as a dancer at the legendary Cotton Club as a teenager and moved on from there. She was known for her beauty and appeared in several movies. She was also a fierce advocate for Civil Rights.

Image of Pearl Bailey

PEARL BAILEY (1918–1990) was an actress and singer, starting in vaudeville, and on to Broadway, television, and movies winning many awards such as the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1976 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom on October 17, 1988.


Image of Julie LondonJULIE LONDON (1926–2000) was a torch singer and actress noted for her sultry, languid contralto vocals. She recorded over thirty albums of pop and jazz standards between 1955 and 1969. She had a huge hit with "Cry Me a River."


Image of Nancy WilsonNANCY WILSON (1937–2018) was a soulful and dynamic jazz singer whose crisp, intricate phrasing helped her cross over into the pop and adult contemporary markets. She hosted the NPR radio series “Jazz Profiles” (1995-2002).


Lena Horne in the Movies

In 1942 Metro-Goldwin-Mayer (MGM) signed Lena Horne to a seven-year picture deal — only the second time in history that an African American woman had been offered a long-term movie contract. The mainstream popularity of two films she made with all-black casts in 1943 — Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather — prompted the re-release of an earlier film The Duke is Tops that same year. To capitalize on Horne's stardom, the film was retitled The Bronze Venus, drawing attention to her beauty as well as her skin color.

In her seven MGM films (with predominantly white casts) she was restricted to the periphery, appearing in stand-alone musical sequences with little impact on the narrative. This was so that Horne's scenes could be edited out of versions shown in the south, where movie theaters upheld a segregationist policy against films featuring black performers. As Horne later recalled, "No one bothered to put me in a movie where I talked to anybody, where some thread of the story might be broken if I were cut." The racial prejudice that limited Horne's acting career disillusioned her with filmmaking and she made no more movies with MGM after 1946.

That did not prevent her, however, from having a long and very successful career in recording, nightclub performing, Broadway, television and, yes, more movies.

Pearl Bailey Makes History as ‘Dolly’

In 1967, when ticket sales for the hit show “Hello Dolly” sagged, producer David Merrick made the bold decision to hire Pearl Bailey to play the lead role. With Bailey’s arrival, the production was re-invented with an all-Black cast, featuring actor and jazz singer Cab Calloway performing as Dolly’s love interest, Horace Vandergelder.

The new iteration of the Jerry Herman-Michael Stewart musical was acclaimed by critics and audiences alike as Bailey gave new life to a long-running production. Notably, in its review the New York Times stated, “For Miss Bailey this was a Broadway triumph for the history books… She took the whole musical in her hands and swung it around her neck as easily as if it were a feather boa.”

For her efforts, Bailey received a special Tony Award in 1968.

To see the video in full screen, click the icon in the lower right-hand corner, and to get back, do the same. IMPORTANT:

"I Won't Dance"
Jerome Kern - Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh

"Stormy Weather"
Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler

“Cry Me a River”
Arthur Hamilton

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You"
Bob Gaudio - Bob Crewe

"Hello, Dolly"
Composer Jerry Herman