Pearl Bailey/

What the world really needs is more love and less paperwork

Singer Pearl Bailey began her career as a teenage cabaret singer, who would become a goodwill ambassador to the UN and not long before her death, be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her lifetime’s achievements.

The Virginia-born daughter of a preacher started out in the Big Band era and sang for troops during the Second World War. By the end of the 1940s she had become a Broadway star, making her stage debut in St. Louis Woman. Later on in her career she gave a Tony-winning performance alongside Cab Calloway in a hit stage version of Hello, Dolly!, while her film credits included Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess. With a ready wit and instinctive comic timing, she described herself as a humourist who told stories to music. She said it made her laugh to hear people call her an actress – although she was a gifted one.

Pearl had begun making hit records in the 1950s and Takes Two to Tango became one of her signature tunes. In the 1970s, she hosted her own TV variety show and provided the voice or Mrs Owl in Disney feature The Fox and Hound. A good friend of Joan Crawford, she sang at the film star’s funeral in 1977.

Pearl wrote several memoirs – and a cook book– and, appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN by three presidents, she embraced the opportunity to discuss global cooperation and, later, the fight against AIDS. Warm and charismatic, she also worked with First Lady Barbara Bush to promote literacy.

Lauded with honours for her contribution to acting, aged 60, Pearl enrolled to study for a theology degree at university. Her death at the age of 72 was described as a loss to music, a loss to diplomacy and a great loss to the many people who knew and loved her.