On Valentine’s Day, jazz drummer Louie Bellson died at age 84. When I saw this bit of news, it took me a moment but I soon remembered the name. Duke Ellington, no less, had once called Bellson “the world’s greatest musician.” However, Mr. Bellson’s music career was not the reason I remembered him.
Last year, I ran across a black-and-white photo of the iconic African American actress/singer Pearl Bailey smoking, and I said to myself, I didn’t know Pearl Bailey smoked. But then I read the caption below that picture, “Pearl Bailey Married Louie Bellson in 1952,” and quickly forgot her bad habit. For the next hour or so, I was consumed with finding out about this guy with the cigarette lighter locked in Pearl’s gaze. Who was this white man?