Born: 1912

Died: 1978

From the Historian: Bill Bailey by Leslie Hoffman, historian, in Saranac Village at Will Rogers News, April/May/June 2017

Bill Bailey, an African-American tap dancer, lived from 1912 to 1978 and came to Will Rogers due to a respiratory ailment. Born in New Jersey, he was the brother of the well-known actress-singer Pearl Bailey, who would come up to Saranac Lake often to visit him. Bill was a Vaudevillian, actor and most notably a dancer. He is credited with being the person who invented and performed the Moonwalk, however, he called his dance the "Backslide." This performance seen in Cabin in the Sky (1943) starring Ethel Waters, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson and Lena Horne, is available on for viewing. He was trained briefly by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson who was famous for dancing with Shirley Temple.

Bill danced many times at the Apollo Theatre and various other famous stages during his era. He danced with Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis. Though the doctors at Will Rogers wanted Bill to rest and recover, he would entertain the other patients with his dancing. He also continued to dance after his retirement when he was a Reverend in Harlem, but generally only did it to raise money for the church. Once an entertainer, always an entertainer.

Watch a video of Bailey dancing at the Apollo Theatre in 1955.