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Sammy Davis Jr. – America’s favorite entertainer

Goran Blazeski

-Sammy Davis Jr. was born on 8 December 1925, in Harlem, New York, to Elvira Sanchez and Sammy Davis Sr. Sammy’s parents worked as vaudevillians together with his uncle Will Mastin.

Sammy’s first appearance on stage happened when he was just three years old. He performed together with his father and his uncle as The Will Mastin Trio and he immediately became popular among the audience. Due to his popularity, the act’s name was changed to Will Mastin’s Gang Featuring Little Sammy.

Davis performing in 1966

Davis performing in 1966

After his parent’s divorce, Sammy continued to live with his father. He showed that he was a terrific dancer, and at the age of five he started to perform regularly and traveled with his father on the shrinking vaudeville circuit. His film debut was in the musical Rufus Jones for President when Sammy was seven years old. He played the role of a little boy whose dream was to become president.

Very soon, Sammy became the main attraction of the trio. They became very popular and started to perform at larger clubs where Sammy met many famous performers. In 1941, the Trio performed at Detroit’s Michigan Theater, where Sammy met Frank Sinatra, who later became one of his best friends.

Sammy Davis Jr. during the 1963 March on Washington

Sammy Davis Jr. during the 1963 March on Washington

In 1943, when Sammy turned eighteen, he joined the U.S. Army. The white troops in the army didn’t like Sammy and mistreated him. However, Sammy got the chance to show his skills in front of them. His singing and his dancing earned him the admiration of all soldiers.

When he returned from duty, Sammy continued to perform with the Will Mastin Trio. Besides this, he also started to give solo performances after signing a recording contract with Decca Records in 1954. His first album, Starring Sammy Davis Jr., and his second album, Just for Lovers, sold very well. In that same year, Sammy had a car accident in which he broke his nose and lost his left eye. However, this accident didn’t stop Sammy from performing. Only two months later, he was on stage receiving thunderous ovations.

Sammy Davis Jr. (left) with Walter Reuther (center) and Roy Wilkins (right) at the 1963 March on Washington

Sammy Davis Jr. (left) with Walter Reuther (center) and Roy Wilkins (right) at the 1963 March on Washington

In the 1950s, Sammy performed more than 400 times in the Broadway musical Mr. Wonderful. This musical was made specially to showcase his talents to the world. In 1959, Frank Sinatra invited him to be part of the Rat Pack, which included Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin. The Sands Casino in Las Vegas was the place where the Rat Pack group performed regularly.

During the 1960s, together with Joe, Peter, and Dean, Sammy took part in the filming of Oceans 11, Sergeants 3, and Robin and the Seven Hoods. The 1960s were also the years when Sammy had successful musical career, publishing several albums including Lonely Is the Name, As Long as She Needs Me, and That’s All!. 

Sammy Davis, Jr. Photo Credit

Sammy Davis, Jr. Photo Credit

In 1972, Sammy hit the charts with his hit The Candy Man which was used in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This song became number one hit on Billboard Hot 100.

During the 1970s, Sammy befriended president Richard Nixon. He publicly embraced Nixon during the Republican convention in Miami. This caused hostile reactions among his friends. Nixon thanked Sammy for this by inviting him and his wife to sleep in the White House, which is believed to be the first time a black couple was invited to do so. However, Sammy later said that he regretted his alliance with Nixon.

Sammy Davis Jr. in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House with President Richard Nixon, March 4, 1973

Sammy Davis Jr. in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House with President Richard Nixon, March 4, 1973

In the 1980s, Sammy’s health began to fade. This was a result of heavy drinking and drug use. Besides his poor health, he continued to perform.

Read another story from us: The Day the Music Died: The fatal plane crash in which Buddy Holly and two other great musicians died

In 1989, Sammy made his final performance at the Harrah’s casino in Lake Tahoe. He died of a throat cancer in 1990 at the age of 64. He will be remembered as America’s favorite entertainer who could dance, sing, act, and make the audience laugh.