Bill Bailey (dancer)

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William Norton Bailey (December 8, 1912 – December 12, 1978), known professionally as Bill Bailey was an African-American tap dancer.[1] The older brother of actress and singer Pearl Bailey, Bill was considered to be one of the best rhythm dancers of his time and was the first person to be recorded doing the Moonwalk, although he referred to it as the "Backslide," in the film Cabin in the Sky (1943), starring Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Lena Horne.

Early life[edit]

Bill Bailey was born William Norton Bailey in Newport News, Virginia and spent his adolescence in Philadelphia.[2]


At eighteen years old, Bailey was discovered in New York by Lew Leslie and put in his production Blackbirds of 1930. After the production, he and Derby Wilson, another prominent taps act, formed a team that challenged each other at the Cotton Club and toured with Duke Ellington when his band traveled to Europe in 1933.[2]

Bailey was often compared to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who he considered a mentor and friend.[3] Once Bailey and Wilson went solo, Bailey continued to be booked as a Bill Robinson imitation act, often standing in for Robinson when he was away filming. Black press at the time regularly predicted that Bailey would follow Robinson into film stardom.[2]

Personal life and death[edit]

He was married to Pernell Bailey, and had nine children and many grandchildren.[4] He died on December 12, 1978 in Philadelphia, PA, four days after his 66th birthday.


  1. ^ "Bill Bailey". Library of Congress Performing Arts Databases. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  2. ^ a b c Seibert, Brian (2015). What the eye hears : a history of tap dancing (1st ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-86547-953-1. OCLC 898419561.
  3. ^ "Bill Bailey, 66, the Tap Dancer And Older Brother of Pearl Bailey". The New York Times. 1978-12-18. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-10.
  4. ^ Tom Masland (December 17, 1978). "Bill Bailey, famed tap-dancer with Ellington, Basie jazz bands". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. 42 – via

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