Facts about Sammy Davis
Sammy Davis, Jr. Biography
Sammy Davis, Jr. was a genuine song-and-dance man: an expert tapdancer, crooner, impressionist and all-purpose entertainer. Davis is best remembered for his high-energy years as part of Frank Sinatra‘s so-called Rat Pack.
Both of his parents were vaudeville entertainers, and by age four Sammy Davis, Jr. was himself dancing onstage. As he grew older he sang and tapdanced with his father and godfather, Will Mastin, as the Will Mastin Trio. The younger Davis was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944, and spent much of his hitch as a performer in the Special Services branch.
After the war he returned to performing with the Will Mastin Trio, but in the 1950s he broke out as a solo act. He starred on Broadway in the show Mr. Wonderful (1956) and was a frequent headliner in Las Vegas. Late in the 1950s he became part of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, a group whose main members included crooner Dean Martin, comedian Joey Bishop, and actor Peter Lawford. They performed onstage in Las Vegas and appeared together in movies like Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and Robin and The Seven Hoods (1964).
Despite being part of such a high-profile group, Davis still had to battle racism and Jim Crow laws; often he wasn’t allowed to stay in the hotels where he performed. Still, he became a regular fixture on television in the 1960s, and he was nominated for a Tony award for his lead role in the Broadway hit Golden Boy (1964-65).
Davis’s films included Porgy and Bess (1959, with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge), Salt and Pepper (1968, with Peter Lawford) and Tap (1989). His 1969 single “I’ve Gotta Be Me” was a top 40 hit and became his de facto theme song. Three years later, in 1972, his recording of “The Candy Man” was a surprise #1 hit.
Davis’s interracial marriage to Swedish actress May Britt in 1960 was a rarity for its day. They divorced in 1968. He married dancer Altovise Gore in 1970 and they remained married until his death. His wrote two autobiographies: Yes I Can (1965) and Why Me? (1989). In 2001 he was posthumously given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sammy Davis, Jr. lost his left eye in a 1954 car crash while driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles… Sammy Davis, Jr. converted to Judaism in the mid-1950s… He sang the theme song to Robert Blake‘s 1970s TV show Baretta… Sammy Davis, Jr. was played by Don Cheadle in the 1998 TV movie The Rat Pack.
Something in Common with Sammy Davis, Jr.
- Actors born in New York (198)
- Musicians born in New York (67)
- Musicians born in the United States (414)
- Sagittarius Musicians (50)
4 Good Links
- 90-minute documentary with tons of great moments
- The Library of Congress has all the details, with a special focus on his tapdancing
- His biography, with a focus on the racism he faced
- Snazzy fan site with the support of Davis's estate; great photos