Davis, Sammy, Jr.

Davis, Sammy, Jr. (Samuel George), 1925-1990, American entertainer, b. Harlem, New York City, N.Y. Both of Davis’s parents were dancers who performed on vaudeville; Davis began performing at age three along with his father and dancer Will Mastin as the Will Mastin Trio. After serving in the Army during World War II, he rejoined the Mastin Trio on the West Coast, where the act became a major success in nightclubs in the early ‘50s; at the same time, he began a career as a singer and actor, appearing on Broadway in 1956 in the musical, Mr. Wonderful. In 1959, he joined the Rat Pack, the infamous group of performers led by Frank Sinatra that successfully appeared in Las Vegas for several seasons. Davis broke the color barrier at many nightclubs, including in Vegas and at New York’s Copacabana (1964). That same year, he starred on Broadway in Golden Boy, which ran for two years. Davis was active in the civil rights movement of the '60s, but stoked controversy by supporting Richard Nixon's presidency. As a recording artist, he achieved his only #1 success with the novelty song “The Candy Man” (1972). Davis’s personal life was marked with trauma, including a 1954 car accident that led to the loss of his left eye. He also stoked controversy by converting to Judaism in 1961 and marrying the white actress May Britt (1960; div. 1968). In his later years, Davis became a beloved performer whose appeal transcended race and culture.

See his autobiographies (1972; 1990; both with J. and B. Boyar); memoir by T. Davis and N. B. Pierce (2014); biographies by G. Fishgall (2011), W. Haygood (2014); studies by M. Birkbeck (2009); reader by G. Early (2011).

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