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Sammy Davis Jr.

Recognized throughout much of his career as "the world's greatest living entertainer," Sammy Davis, Jr. was a remarkably popular and versatile performer equally adept at acting, singing, dancing, and impersonations -- in short, a variety artist in the classic tradition. A member of the famed Rat Pack, he was among the very first African-American talents to find favor with audiences on both sides of the color barrier, and remains a perennial icon of cool. Born in Harlem on December 8, 1925, Davis made his stage debut at the age of three performing with Holiday in Dixieland, a black vaudeville troupe featuring his father and helmed by his de facto uncle, Will Mastin; dubbed "Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget," he proved phenomenally popular with audiences and the act was soon renamed Will Mastin's Gang Featuring Little Sammy. At the age of seven, Davis made his film debut in the legendary musical short Rufus Jones for President, and later received tap-dancing lessons courtesy of the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. In 1941, the Mastin Gang opened for Tommy Dorsey at Detroit's Michigan Theater; there Davis first met Dorsey vocalist Frank Sinatra -- the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

In 1943, Davis joined the U.S. Army, where he endured a constant battle with racism; upon his return from duty, the group was renamed the Will Mastin Trio. Three years later they opened for Mickey Rooney, who encouraged Davis to begin including his many impersonations in the Trio's act; where previously they had exclusively performed music, the addition of comedy brought new life to the group, and by the beginning of the next decade, they were headlining venues including New York's Capitol club and Ciro's in Hollywood. In 1952, at the invitation of Sinatra, they also played the newly integrated Copacabana. In 1954, Davis signed to Decca, topping the charts with his debut LP, Starring Sammy Davis, Jr.; that same year he lost his left eye in a much-publicized auto accident, but upon returning to the stage in early 1955 was greeted with even greater enthusiasm than before on the strength of a series of hit singles including "Something's Gotta Give," "Love Me or Leave Me," and "That Old Black Magic." A year later, Davis made his Broadway debut in the musical Mr. Wonderful, starring in the show for over 400 performances and launching a hit with the song "Too Close for Comfort."

In 1958, Davis resumed his film career after a quarter-century layoff with Anna Lucasta, followed a year later by his acclaimed turn in Porgy and Bess. Also in 1959 he became a charter member of the Rat Pack, a loose confederation of Sinatra associates (also including Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop) which began regularly performing together at the Sands casino in Las Vegas. In 1960, they made Ocean's Eleven, the first in a series of hip and highly self-referential Rat Pack films; although Davis' inclusion in the group was perceived in many quarters as an egalitarian move, many Black audiences felt he was simply a token -- the butt of subtly racist jokes -- and declared him a sell-out. His earlier conversion to Judaism had been met with considerable controversy within the African-American community as well; still, nothing compared to the public outcry over his 1960 marriage to Swedish actress May Britt, which even elicited death threats. Still, Davis remained a major star, appearing in the 1962 Rat Pack film Sergeants 3 and scoring a major hit with "What Kind of Fool Am I?" Two years later he returned to Broadway in the long-running Golden Boy, scoring a Tony nomination for his performance.

In 1964, the third Rat Pack film, Robin and the Seven Hoods, was released; two years later, in the wake of the publication of his autobiography Yes I Can, Davis was also among a number of musical luminaries, including Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, who co-starred in the jazz drama A Man Called Adam. In 1968, he and Lawford teamed as Salt and Pepper; the picture was a hit, and a sequel, One More Time, appeared in 1970. In between the two, Davis delivered one of his most memorable screen performances in Bob Fosse's 1969 musical Sweet Charity; he also appeared in a number of television features, including The Pigeon, The Trackers, and Poor Devil. In 1972, Davis topped the pop charts with "The Candy Man," from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; from 1975 to 1977, he hosted his own syndicated variety show, Sammy and Company, and in 1978, starred in the film Sammy Stops the World. However, in the late '70s and through much of the '80s, Davis' profile diminished, and he was primarily confined to the casino circuit, with a 1988 comeback tour he mounted with Sinatra and Martin largely unsuccessful. His appearance in the 1989 film Tap was much acclaimed, but it was to be his last screen performance -- a lifelong smoker, Davis died of cancer on May 16, 1990. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

mikedearmas1
Never been very fond of Sammy as a singer. Blaaahhhhh.
Mike D
Wonderful
Sammy is legendary, along with the rest of the rat pack!
whoever listed the lyrics for We Open In Venice for Pandora must have been stoned because they are very, very wrong. For example, it's the Sheriff waiting for them outside....n o t a Chef! ugh!
I LOVED THIS MOVIE. IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT, YOU'VE GOT TO SEE IT. BUON SAN VALENTINO ♥ ❣ ❤ ❥ ❦ ❧ ♡ ɞ ʚ ღ ஐ ლ დ ഇ
Way before Micheal!!!!! - Paved the Way!!!!-LOVE HIM!!""
...Listening to Mr. Bojangles while I study.... Can't concentrate, I wonder why?
THE GREATEST ENTERTAINER OF ALL TIME. A MAN OF COURAGE AND CONVICTIONS. THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER LIKE HIME.
always a pleasure to see Sammy Davis Jr., whether live on stage, on TV, in the movies, whatever...j u s t something about him, so cool, so debonaire, so energetic, funny, serious...al w a y s a pleasure to see Sammy
Shout out to Smoky. One of the finest performers we'll ever know.

I just don't he ever got the Fame He Deserved!! And most certainly not the Much Deserved Attention!!!
I just love his Singing, Acting, Dancing, Comedy and His all around Entertainmen t ! ! They just don't make them like him anymore!! Miss you Sammy!!
just the greatest performer of all time thats all i have to say
The more I listen to him over time I realize what an incredible talent he had for milking the most out of a song. What phrasing, what timing, what diction! So glad we have him captured for posterity on so many recordings to enjoy over and over again!
Saw him perform live in Tahoe. We were at the table in front of the stage. We were blown away by his talent and stamina, with a fast paced show. Judi9
The Birth of the Blues on Something's Gotta Give is my favorite version, love the scream at the end! Sammy you where one in a million. Wish I could have seen you live in concert.
joylady90056
He's amazing! I could listen and watch Mr. Davis perform all day!
Guess I am getting older, but remember when all of the rat pack was here and loved them all. Loved to hear them sing and loved Sammy. Remember when he was married to May Brtt and what a problem it supposedly was then. A long time ago.
just watched some Rat Pack vids on youtube...he a r t w a r m i n g , yet very sad. i miss them a lot
He was Mr Entertainer. Wonderful sense of humor, serious performer. It was like seeing him for the first time each time. An awesome experience. You are missed.
happy days11
Love and Miss u Sammy
t_heath
He had a great sense of humor......s i n g , dance, he could do it all.....
also very sad that he died(dam cigars).R.I. P . Sammy
anyone else ever feel like you were born in the wrong time?
just seeing a photo of this Sammy makes me smile :)
Just gotta love the Sammy, Mister Entertainmen t .
HE WAS GREAT I MISS THE RAT PACK AS I AM SURE MANY OTHERS DO TOO
An era that I wish I could have been apart of, simply amazing performances . It is a sad thing to compare their greatness to that of today's "performers" .
The only man who could impersonate Frank Sinatra's voice perfectly! In fact this was done on T.V. when Frank had his own show.A great loss.
Sammy does us proud!! I glad I could finally find his music..
jrcookie256
A great rendition by a great performer.He in fact is over the rainbow....G o d bless him.
Sammy (and Frank,Dean,P e t e r . . . B o b b y . . . N a t . . . ) Yeah - "Those" were the years. When Sammy curled up like a fetus on his death bed the world stopped. When he died, I wept.
sassyjan
he was simply the best
rockytopaz
Does anybody remember a album Sammy put out in the 60's with a solo Guitar player who was known by only one name starting with A.. The music was very soulful and I am looking for th name of the Guitar player.
steve3691
Dean & Frank both always said their favorite entertainer was Sammy!!
Incredible.. . 1 0 0 % talent!!!
That fantastic picture of Dean, Frank, and Sammy makes me laugh every time i see it. Boy they were the best! :)
One of the greatest song interpreters and entertainers the recorded era has ever known.
I'm only 44 but I remember watching Sammy on TV as a child. I think he was and truly is my favorite artist.
I would have loved to seen him live... wow
sciphy
I'm so sorry for those who were never able to see this great entertainer live in concert. He was absolutely the most amazing performer I have ever seen.
iii_trinity3
@raqueld I totally agree! Love love LOVE his rendition of Over the Rainbow!
Sammy Davis is arguably THE best entertainer who has ever lived.
colby.barak
I am too young for many of the artists I have discovered here. I knew who the members of the Rat Pack were, but never knew what they could do. Thank you Pandora, I never would have found the rich history they offer, and the info you provide about them makes the music even better.
mchapman71
Not much of a singer technically? He was technically far beyond his Rat Pack buddies. Add the style, ease with which he knocked it out of the park, and he was one of the finest ever. I've heard so many technically wonderful singers who bore audiences to tears. The late, great Sylvia Syms and Art Lund both emphasized to me in separate talks that singing comes from the heart, not the throat. It's about emotion, connection -- and being in tune, of course...
Over the Rainbow is one of my favorite songs and I love the way he sings it - bravo!
Sammy was the original Mr. Entertainmen t . . . s i n g , dance, act, tell jokes, do impersonatio n s (one of the best), and was probably the best overall entertainer that I ever saw. The way the man treats the song that he's singing is a joy and a revelation. Had all the talent in the world. Highly underated.
brodpete
I love his songs, as well as the songs of sammy davis, jr., frank sinatra, bing crosby. I am grateful to have discovered this station.
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