Though not a jazz singer per se, Davis could play trumpet and vibes and occasionally subbed on drums in the Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton bands. He is best known as a singer, tap dancer, impressionist, actor and member of "the Rat Pack."
From Harlem, Samuel George Davis Jr. was born December 8, 1925 into show business, to Elvera Sanchez, a chorus girl, and Sam Davis Sr., the lead dancer in a vaudeville revue called Will Mastin's Holiday in Dixieland. Davis Jr. began in vaudeville, at the age of 3, in that vaudeville revue.
In 1931, he appeared in the Ethel Waters' film Rufus Jones for President.
In 1932, his uncle's act was renamed the Will Mastin Trio, and Davis, who learned to tap dance from Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, soon became the star of the act.
The Army assigned Davis to an integrated entertainment Special Services Unit, and he found that the spotlight lessened the prejudice. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said.
After his discharged at the end of WWII, Davis rejoined his family dance act, which played at clubs around Portland, Oregon. He began to achieve success on his own, going solo, he made his first mark with an album, Starring Sammy Davis, Jr., and was singled out for praise by critics after which he soon released several albums. This led to his appearance in the Broadway play Mr. Wonderful in 1956.
In 1954, Davis nearly lost his life in a car accident returning from Las Vegas. As a result, he lost an eye, wearing an eye patch for six months until he was fitted with a prosthetic.
In 1959, Davis became a member of the famous "Rat Pack", led by his friend Frank Sinatra, which included fellow performers such as Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Shirley MacLaine.
He released over 40 albums, with many songs hitting the Hit Parade and achieving gold record status. Some memorable songs include "Candy Man," "Hey There," "I Gotta Be Me," and "The Lady is a Tramp, among others.
His first hit was "Hey There," followed by "Something's Gotta Give," "Love Me Or Leave Me" and "That Old Black Magic." He debuted on Broadway in Mr. Wonderful and played Sportin' Life in the film of Porgy and Bess. In the 1960s, Davis appeared with Sinatra and Martin in the "Rat Pack" films Oceans Eleven and Robin and the Seven Hoods. Davis sold a million records in 1962 with "What Kind of Fool Am I." In 1988, he made a film with Gregory Hines, named Tap.
In all, he was in four stage shows, 38 films, had numerous television cameos, had a plethora of albums, wrote three autobiographies with assistance, earned numerous awards and recognitions.
- In 2008, he was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.
- In 2006, he was inducted into the Las Vegas Walk of Stars in front of the Riviera Hotel.
- In 1989, he was awarded the NAACP Image Award.
- In 1987, he was a honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Honoree.
- He was nominated for Emmy's and Golden Globes and, in 1974, he won a Special Citation Award at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
- In 1968, he was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal.
- In 1965, he was nominated for a Tony in the Best Actor-Musical category.
- In 1960, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6254 Hollywood Blvd.
He was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement and remained true to his beliefs regardless of racial pressure throughout his life.
Davis died in Beverly Hills on May 16, 1990 of complications from throat cancer.
He was one of the first African-American performers to be accepted fully into the American mainstream, and made this acceptance much the subject of his stage persona.
Compiled from various Internet resources including Wikipedia and biographical sites.