I recently learned of Anna Bailey while watching Soul of a Nation Presents: Black in Vegas. Black celebrities shared the history of what Black performers endured during segregation in Las Vegas and how those before them became trailblazers for Black headliners in Las Vegas today.
But one woman who saw it all and is here to tell the tale is Anna Bailey, the first Black showgirl on the Las Vegas strip!
While in Buffalo, New York, Anna was with the Clarence Robinson Show and was friends with Pearl Bailey. They were of no relation. Pearl encouraged Anna and her husband, Bob Baily, a singer, and MC, to move to Las Vegas. When Anna moved to Vegas, the first casino she worked in was The Moulin Rouge, which opened in 1955. It was the first integrated hotel and casino in the country. It was built past the strip on the west side of town where the majority of Black folks lived.
Black choreographer, Clarence Robinson of the Cotton Club Revue and Stormy Weather, developed the dance routines for The Moulin Rouge. Baby, The Moulin Rouge stayed packed with a standing-room-only crowd every night where they had three shows a night, seven nights a week. Unfortunately, The Moulin Rouge closed six months later. Some say it was closed by the Mafia because it took money away from the white casinos, thus being a financial threat. Others say The Moulin Rouge was in debt and could not handle the financial burden.
After the closing of The Moulin Rouge, Anna, and Bob remained in Vegas. Anna was a part of an all-Black touring dance company that performed at the Dunes, and she helped integrate shows with Pearl Bailey at the Flamingo Hotel, where she worked for about five years. Due to her experience and reputation, Anna stated she didn’t have to audition and was automatically hired to be part of the shows. Before settling in Vegas, Anna had worked on Broadway and traveled to Europe, Africa, and other places for dance. Bob later became the first Black TV personality in Vegas. In the 60s and 70s, Bob and Anna opened various businesses around Las Vegas. They were such an influence around Vegas that Bob had a middle school named after him, Dr. William H. “Bob” Bailey Middle School, located on N. Hollywood Blvd. in Las Vegas.
The school opened fall of 2005, and the dedication to Bob was spring of 2006. The school’s motto is “Every child. Every chance. Every day.” Bob passed away on May 24, 2014.
Anna says the environment in Las Vegas was hostile for Black people. For example, they couldn’t sit at the Five and Ten store counter, and at the El Portal Theater, Black people had to sit on one side. In addition, casinos had the entertainers’ names in lights on the huge marquee announcing their upcoming shows. They were still not allowed to enter Vegas establishments through the front door where they were headlining. Instead, they had to enter and exit through the back door. Also, Black entertainers were not allowed to eat in the casinos or have friends or family sit in the audience during their performances.
Today, Anna is in her 90s and speaks fondly of her memories and those she met as the first Black Las Vegas showgirl.
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