Dec. 8, 1925

Sammy Davis Jr. during the 1963 March on Washington Credit: Wikipedia

Sammy Davis Jr., who succeeded as a dancer, singer and actor on stage and screen, was born in New York City. 

Known as “Mr. Show Business,” he called himself “the only Black, Puerto Rican, one-eyed, Jewish entertainer in the world.” He learned dancing at a young age and played the title role in the movie, “Rufus Jones for President,” in which he was only 7. 

When he turned 18 in 1943, he was drafted into World War II. 

“Overnight the world looked different,” he declared in his autobiography. “It wasn’t one color anymore.” 

He encountered plenty of racism from some of the white soldiers. 

“I must have had a knockdown, drag-out fight every two days,” he recalled. 

In the end, he wound up performing in front of the same soldiers that had once abused him. 

“My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight,” he recalled. “It was the one way I might hope to affect a man’s thinking.” 

After his time in the military, he broke through as an entertainer after his nightclub performance following the 1951 Academy Awards. Unable to break the color barrier of television in the U.S., he starred in his own TV special on the Canadian Broadcast Co. That success and his continuing popularity helped break down the walls of the segregated entertainment industry.

He starred in seven Broadway shows, appeared in 23 films, including “Porgy and Bess,” had his own TV variety show and became a successful recording artist and member of the “Rat Pack” along with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others. He performed in Las Vegas with them and appeared with them in movies, including “Ocean’s 11.”  In 1972, he delivered his biggest hit, “The Candy Man,” which reached No. 1 on the charts. 

That same year he also delivered one of television’s most famous kisses, smooching Archie Bunker on the cheek during an “All in the Family” episode. He received an Emmy for his television performances, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. In 1987, Davis became a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and he died of throat cancer three years later.


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