Billy Eckstine

William Clarence “Billy” Eckstine (July 8, 1914 – March 8, 1993) was an American singer of ballads and bandleader of the swing era. Eckstine’s smooth baritone and distinctive vibrato broke down barriers throughout the 1940s, first as leader of the original bop big-band, then as the first romantic black male in popular music.

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Eckstine’s grandparents were William F. Eckstine and Nannie Eckstine, a mixed race, lawfully married couple who lived in Washington D.C.; both were born in the year 1863. William F. was born in Prussia and Nannie in Virginia. His parents were William Eckstein, a chauffeur and Charlotte Eckstein. Billy attended Armstrong High School, St. Paul Normal and Industrial School, and Howard University.[1] He left Howard in 1933, after winning first place in an amateur talent contest.[2] He married his first wife, June, in 1942; she too was a vocalist. After their divorce he married actress and model Carolle Drake in 1953, and remained married until his death. He was the father of 5 children and 2 step children, including Ed Eckstine who was a president of Mercury Records, Guy Eckstine who was a Columbia and Verve Records A&R executive and record producer, and singer Gina Eckstine.[3]

1947 “Everything I have Is Yours”

An influence looming large in the cultural development of soul and R&B singers from Sam Cooke to Prince, Eckstine was able to play it straight on his pop hits “Prisoner of Love“, “My Foolish Heart” and “I Apologize“. Raised in Washington, D.C., Eckstine began singing at the age of seven and entered many amateur talent shows. He had also planned on a football career, but after breaking his collar bone, he made music his focus. After working his way west to Chicago, Eckstine joined Earl Hines‘ Grand Terrace Orchestra in 1939, staying with the band as vocalist and, occasionally, trumpeter, until 1943. By that time, he had begun to make a name for himself through the Hines band’s radio shows with such juke box hits as “Stormy Monday Blues” and his own “Jelly Jelly.”

A Sunday Kind Of Love

In 1944, Eckstine formed his own big band and made it a fountainhead for young musicians who would reshape jazz by the end of the decade, including Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, and Fats Navarro. Tadd Dameron and Gil Fuller were among the band’s arrangers, and Sarah Vaughan gave the vocals a contemporary air. The Billy Eckstine Orchestra was the first bop big-band, and its leader reflected bop innovations by stretching his vocal harmonics into his normal ballads. Despite the group’s modernist slant, Eckstine hit the charts often during the mid-’40s, with Top Ten entries including “A Cottage for Sale” and “Prisoner of Love“. On the group’s frequent European and American tours, Eckstine, popularly known as Mr. B, also played trumpet, valve trombone and guitar.

“A Cottage For Sale”

Dizzy Gillespie, in reflecting on the band in his 1979 autobiography To Be or Not to Bop places it in perspective: “There was no band that sounded like Billy Eckstine’s. Our attack was strong, and we were playing bebop, the modern style. No other band like this one existed in the world.”

After a few years of touring with road-hardened be-boppers, Eckstine became a solo performer in 1947, and seamlessly made the transition to string-filled balladry. He recorded more than a dozen hits during the late ’40s, including “My Foolish Heart” and “I Apologize.” He was one of the first artists to sign with the newly-established MGM Records, and had immediate hits with revivals of “Everything I Have Is Yours” (1947), Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s “Blue Moon” (1948), and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” (1949).


Eckstine had further success in 1950 with Victor Young’s theme song to “My Foolish Heart” and a revival of the 1931 Bing Crosby hit, “I Apologize“. However, unlike Nat “King” Cole (who followed him into the pop charts), Eckstine’s singing, especially his exaggerated vibrato, sounded increasingly mannered and he was unable to sustain his recording success throughout the decade.

“Body and Soul”

While enjoying success in the middle-of-the-road and pop fields, Eckstine occasionally returned to his jazz roots, recording with Vaughan, Count Basie and Quincy Jones for separate LPs, and he regularly topped the Metronome and Downbeat polls in the Top Male Vocalist category: He won Esquire magazine’s New Star Award in 1946; the Down Beat magazine Readers Polls from 1948 to 1952; and the Metronome magazine award as “Top Male Vocalist” from 1949 to 1954.

His 1950 appearance at the Paramount Theatre in New York City drew a larger audience than Frank Sinatra at his legendary Paramount performance.

Among Eckstine’s best records of the 1950s was a 1957 duet with Sarah Vaughan, “Passing Strangers“, a minor hit in 1957, but a perennial hit in the UK. Even before folding his band, Eckstine had recorded solo to support it, scoring two million-sellers in 1945 with “Cottage for Sale” and a revival of “Prisoner of Love“. Far more successful than his band recordings, though more mannered and pompously sung, these prefigured Eckstine’s future career. Where before black bands had played ballads, jazz and dance music, in the immediate post-war years they had to choose.

“My Foolish Heart”

The classic 1960 live in Las Vegas LP No Cover, No Minimum featured Eckstine taking a few trumpet solos as well. He recorded several albums for Mercury and Roulette during the early 1960s, and he appeared on Motown for a few standards albums during the mid-’60s. After recording very sparingly during the ’70s for Al Bell’s, Stax/Enterprise imprint, Eckstine (although still performing to adoring audiences throughout the world), made his last recording, the Grammy-nominated Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter in 1986.

Eckstine made numerous appearances on television variety shows, including “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “The Nat King Cole Show”, “The Tonight Show” with Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson, “The Merv Griffin Show“, “The Art Linkletter Show,” “The Joey Bishop Show,” “The Dean Martin Show“, “The Flip Wilson Show“, and “Playboy After Dark“. He also performed as an actor in the TV sitcom “Sanford and Son“, and in such films as Skirts Ahoy, Let’s Do It Again, and Jo Jo Dancer.

Eckstine was a style leader and noted sharp dresser. He designed and patented a high roll collar that formed a “B” over a Windsor-knotted tie, which became known as a “Mr. B. Collar.” In addition to looking cool, the collar could expand and contract without popping open, which allowed his neck to swell while playing his horns. The collars were worn by many a hipster in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Legend has it that his refined appearance even had an effect on trumpeter Miles Davis. Once, when Eckstine came across a disheveled Davis in the depths of his heroin excess, his remark “Looking sharp, Miles” served as a wake-up call for Davis, who promptly returned to his father’s farm in the winter of 1953 and finally kicked the habit.[4]

With Nat King Cole, “Rosetta”

In 1986, Billy recorded his final album Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter. Eckstine died on March 8, 1993, aged 78.

Quincy Jones quoted in Billboard: “I looked up to Mr. B as an idol. I wanted to dress like him, talk like him, pattern my whole life as a musician and as a complete person in the image of dignity that he projected… As a black man, Eckstine was not immune to the prejudice that characterized the 1950s”. Quincy Jones is quoted in The Pleasures of Jazz as saying of Eckstine: “If he’d been white, the sky would have been the limit. As it was, he didn’t have his own radio or TV show, much less a movie career. He had to fight the system, so things never quite fell into place.””

“When Somthing’s Wrong”

Finally, Lionel Hampton, legendary vibraphonist: “He was one of the greatest singers of all time. We were proud of him because he was the first Black popular singer singing popular songs in our race. We, the whole music profession, were so happy to see him achieve what he was doing. He was one of the greatest singers of that era. He was out singer.”

Sources: wikipedia, youtube,,


  • 1961 Broadway, Bongos and Mr. B (Mercury)
  • 1962 Don’t Worry ’bout Me (Mercury)
  • 1964 12 Great Movies (Mercury)
  • 1964 Modern Sound of Mr. B (Mercury)
  • 1965 Prime of My Life (Motown)
  • 1966 My Way (Motown)
  • 1969 For Love of Ivy (Motown)
  • 1971 Feel the Warm (Enterprise)
  • 1971 Moment (Capitol)
  • 1972 Senior Soul (Enterprise)
  • 1974 If She Walked into My Life (Enterprise)
  • 1978 Memento Brasiliero – (Portuguese)
  • 1984 I am a Singer
  • 1986 Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter (Verve)
  • 1994 Everything I Have Is Yours – Anthology (Verve)
  • 1995 I Apologize (Polydor)
  • 2002 How High the Moon (Past Perfect)
  • 2002 Billy Eckstine and His Orchestra (Deluxe)
  • 2002 Stardust (Polydor)
  • 2003 The Motown Years (Motown)
  • 2004 Love Songs (Savoy)
  • 2006 Timeless (Savoy)

Bunny Berigan

Rowland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan (November 2, 1908 – June 2, 1942) was an Americanjazztrumpeter who rose to fame during the swing era, but whose virtuosity and influence were shortened by a losing battle with alcoholism that ended in his early death at age 33. He composed the jazz instrumentals “Chicken and Waffles” and “Blues” in 1935. His 1937 classic jazz recording “I Can’t Get Started” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1975.

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“I Can’t Get Started” Interestingly, this song was written by Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin, though George was alive and collaborating with Ira on most songs.

Berigan was born in Hilbert, Wisconsin,[1] the son of William Berigan and Mamie Schlitzberg, and raised in Fox Lake, Wisconsin. A musical child prodigy, having learned the violin and trumpet at an early age, Berigan played in local orchestras by his late teens before auditioning for the successful Hal Kemp orchestra in 1928 or 1929.

“Until Today”

Kemp first spurned the young trumpeter, reputedly because Berigan at the time had an uncertain tone, but any deficiencies were apparently resolved a year and a half later: this time, in mid-1930, Kemp hired Berigan. Berigan’s first recorded trumpet solos came with the Kemp orchestra, and he was with the unit when they toured England later in the year.

By the time the Kemp unit returned to the U.S. in 1931, Berigan, like fellow trumpeter Manny Klein, became a sought-after studio musician; Fred Rich, Freddy Martin and Ben Selvin were just some who sought his services for record dates. Berigan recorded his first vocal, “At Your Command”, with Rich that year. From late 1932 through 1933, Berigan was also employed by Paul Whiteman, before playing with Abe Lyman’s band in 1934.

“The Prisoner’s Song”

He continued freelancing in the recording and radio studios, most notably with the Dorsey Brothers and on Glenn Miller’s earliest recording date as a leader in 1935, playing on “Solo Hop”. At the same time, however, Berigan made the association that graduated him to fame in his own right: he joined Benny Goodman’s re-forming band. Legendary jazz talent scout and producer John Hammond, who also became Goodman’s brother-in-law in due course, later wrote that he helped persuade Gene Krupa to re-join Goodman, with whom he’d had an earlier falling-out, by mentioning that Berigan, whom Krupa admired, was already committed to the new ensemble. With Berigan and Krupa both on-board, the Goodman band made the legendary, often disheartening tour that ended with their unexpectedly headline-making stand at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, the stand often credited with the “formal” launch of the swing era. Berigan left Goodman to spend some time with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra; his solo on the Dorsey hit “Marie” became considered one of his signature performances. Then, in 1937, Berigan assembled a band to record under his name, picking the then-little known Ira Gershwin/Vernon Duke composition, “I Can’t Get Started“. Berigan’s crisp trumpet work and passable vocal made the song the biggest hit of his career and his theme for the rest of his life. Berigan modeled his trumpet style in part on Louis Armstrong’s style, and often acknowledged Armstrong as his own idol. Armstrong, for his part, returned the compliment after Berigan’s death, saying the only thing wrong with Berigan was that he died too young.

“A Study In Brown”

Berigan got the itch to lead his own band full-time and did so for about three years. Some of their records were equal in standard to the sides he cut with Goodman and Dorsey, but they weren’t financially successful and Berigan was known to fret over a business sense that wasn’t quite equal to his musical talent. Bunny also began a torrid affair with singer Lee Wiley around this time. Already a heavy drinker, the business stress of bandleading drove Berigan to drink even more heavily. Nevertheless, musicians considered him an excellent bandleader; several notable players came into and out of the Berigan orchestra during its short life: Buddy Rich (a fellow Dorsey alumnus), Gus Bivona, Davie Tough, Danny Richards, Joe Bushkin, Ray Conniff, Ruth Bradley, Hank Wayland, Jack Sperling, Bama Warwick, Helen Ward, Sid Weiss, Morty Stuhlmaker, Hymie Shertzer, Bob Jenney, Al Jennings, Buddy Koss, Steve Lipkins, Kathleen Lane, Joe Dixon, Georgie Auld, Joe Lipman, George Wettling, Clyde Rounds, and Tommy Morgan.

“Small Fry”

Berigan was also a fixture on CBS Radio’s Saturday Night Swing Club broadcasts from 1937 to 1940, a coast-to-coast broadcast that helped further popularize jazz as the swing era climbed to its peak. Berigan’s business troubles drove him to declare bankruptcy in 1940 and re-join Tommy Dorsey for a brief period before leaving to form a new small group to play mostly one-night stands. By this time, however, the touring grind became too much: during one such tour, Berigan was hospitalized with pneumonia in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But his doctors discovered worse news: Berigan by now was stricken with cirrhosis of the liver. His doctors advised him to stop drinking and to stop playing the trumpet for an undetermined length of time. Berigan couldn’t do either. He returned to New York City and suffered a massive hemorrhage on May 30, 1942. He died two days later in the hospital at age 33. He was survived by his wife, Donna, and his two young daughters, Patricia and Joyce.[2][3] He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery south of Fox Lake.[4] His 1937 recording of “I Can’t Get Started” was used in the film Save the Tiger (1973), the Roman Polanski film Chinatown (1974), and a Martin Scorsese short film,The Big Shave (1967). Fox Lake, Wisconsin has kept his memory and influence alive with an annual Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee since the early 1970s. At least one of Berigan’s Saturday Night Swing Club dates, a performance from Manhattan Center in New York on 26 September 1939, has survived to circulate among jazz and old-time radio collectors alike.


Sources: wikipedia, youtube,

Vernon Duke

Vernon Duke (10 October [O.S. 27 September] 1903 – January 16, 1969) was a RussianAmericancomposer/songwriter, who also wrote under his original name Vladimir Dukelsky. He is best known for “Taking a Chance on Love” with lyrics by Ted Fetter and John Latouche, “I Can’t Get Started” with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, “April in Paris” with lyrics by E. Y. (“Yip”) Harburg (1932), and “What Is There To Say” for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934, also with Harburg. He wrote the words and music for “Autumn in New York” (1934). Vernon collaborated with lyricists such as Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash and Sammy Cahn and his works have been performed and recorded by Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Wynton Marsalis, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Thelonious Monk.[1]

Ella Fitzgerald singing Vernon Duke’s “April in Paris”

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Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dukelsky (Russian: Владимир Александрович Дукельский) was born in 1903 into a noble family of mixed GeorgianAustrianSpanish-Russian descent, in Parafianovo, Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. The 1954 Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians referred to “one of his grandparents” (Princess Tumanishvili) as having been “directly descended from the kings of Georgia”. His birthplace, however, was a small railroad station in Minsk Governorate. At that time his mother “happened to be traveling by train”.[2] The Dukelskys resided in Kiev, and Vladimir’s only visit to Saint Petersburg and Moscow occurred in the summer of 1915. The impressions of that remarkable summer were later echoed in Dukelsky’s most daring classical composition, the Russian oratorio The End of St. Petersburg (1931–1937).

June Christy singing Vernon Duke’s “Taking A Chance On Love”

At the age of 11, Dukelsky was admitted to the Kiev Conservatory where he studied composition with Reinhold Glière and musical theory with Boleslav Yavorsky. In 1919, his family escaped from the turmoil of civil war in Russia and spent a year and a half with other refugees in Constantinople. In 1921 they obtained American visas and sailed steerage class on the SS King Alexander to New York; immigrating at Ellis Island, where his name was recorded as Vladimir Doukelsky in the French fashion. It was in 1922 in New York that George Gershwin befriended the young immigrant; Gershwin (himself born Jacob Gershowitz) suggested Dukelsky truncate and americanize his name. Dukelsky’s first songs published under his nom de plume were conceived that year, but he continued to write classical music and Russian poetry under his given name until 1955.

In 1924, the restless young man left hospitable America for the Old World. In Paris, he received a commission from Serge Diaghilev to compose a ballet. Dukelsky’s first theatrical production, Zephyr and Flora, was staged in the 1925 season of Ballets Russes, with choreography by Léonide Massine and scenography by Georges Braque, to great critical acclaim. In a review of musical novelties of the season, Sergei Prokofiev described it as full of “superior melodies, very well designed, harmonically beautiful and not too ‘modernist’.” Prokofiev was as impressed with the young talent as Diaghilev was, and soon the composers became close friends. They frequently saw each other until the end of the 1930s and corresponded until 1946, when the attacks of Soviet officialdom on Prokofiev (who returned to Russia in 1938 although Duke urged him not to go) made the further exchange of letters too dangerous for Prokofiev. Dukelsky’s First Symphony was premiered by Serge Koussevitzky and his orchestra in 1928 in Paris on the same bill as the excerpts from Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel. Some of Dukelsky’s and Prokofiev’s compositions of the 1930s bear evidence of the sustaining musical dialogue.

Billy Holiday singing, “I Can’t Get Started”

In the late 1920s, Dukelsky shared his time between Paris, where his more classical works were performed, and London where he composed numbers for musical comedies under the pen name of Vernon Duke. In 1929, he returned to the United States with an intention of settling in the country permanently. He composed and published much serious music, but devoted even greater efforts to establishing himself on Broadway. Duke’s songs “April in Paris” (1932), “Autumn in New York” (1934), “I Like the Likes of You” (1934), “Water Under the Bridge” (1934), “I Can’t Get Started” (1936) were among the hits of the 1930s.

The support and devotion of Serge Koussevitzky, who published Dukelsky’s chamber music and played his orchestral scores, helped him develop his more classical works. Dukelsky’s concerto for piano, orchestra and sopranoobbligato titled Dédicaces (1935–1937), was premièred by Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in January 1939 in New York. His oratorio, The End of St. Petersburg, was premiered a year earlier by Schola Cantorum and the New York Philharmonic under Hugh Ross. In 1937, the composer was asked to complete Gershwin’s last score, a soundtrack to a Technicolor extravaganza The Goldwyn Follies, for which he contributed two parody ballets, choreographed by George Balanchine, and a song “Spring Again”. In 1939, Dukelsky became an American citizen and took Vernon Duke as his legal name. Duke’s greatest success came a year later, with the Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky (1940), choreographed by George Balanchine and performed by an all-black cast at the Martin Beck Theater in New York. Between 1942-1944, he joined the Coast Guard and, while in service he discovered Sid Caesar, a saxophone player in the Coast Guard Band, and wrote a touring show for the Coast Guard called Tars & Spars. He also conceived some of his finest music in the classical tradition, including a Cello Concerto (commissioned by Gregor Piatigorsky) and a Violin Concerto.

Sinatra singing, “Autumn In New York”

His pensive Third Symphony (1946) was dedicated to the memory of Koussevitzky’s wife, Natalie. With years, both Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky, Dukelsky’s devoted supporters, became a sort of surrogate family to him, increasingly so when in 1942 Dukelsky’s mother died. The composer took the conductor’s refusal to officially commission this work with great bitterness. The dedication was revoked and the relationship soured.

In 1946, Duke left the United States for France, where he continued his double career of being a classical composer and a songwriter (now setting to music the texts of French lyricists). By 1948, the composer was back in America. He moved from New York to California where he spent his last decades, writing songs, film and theater scores, chamber music, poetry in Russian and polemical articles and memoirs in English. On October 30, 1957, he married singer Kay McCracken, who had studied with Lotte Lehmann (and who into the 21st century was still performing as Kay Duke Ingalls). His final appearance on Broadway came less than two weeks later with the two songs and incidental music he wrote for the Helen Hayes show, Jean Anouilh‘s Time Remembered (1940) (French title: Léocadia) which ran for 247 performances. He continued to try to mount Broadway musicals during the last decade of his life, including two shows that closed during tryouts and one that went unproduced.

Lena Horne, “What Is There To Say?”

As a classical composer, Dukelsky used the same musical language as his modernist contemporaries Sergei Prokofiev, Arthur Lourié, and, to a lesser extent, Igor Stravinsky. His harmonies, however, were highly original and his subtle melodic gift peerless. As a songwriter and author of theatrical and film music, he was close to George Gershwin and Harold Arlen, but developed an idiosyncratically sophisticated voice of his own, thus contributing considerably to the advances of the twentieth-century American song.

Duke died in Santa Monica, California on January 16, 1969, during a lung cancer operation.

His numerous papers — musical and literary manuscripts and correspondence in English, French, and Russian — are now stored in the Musical Division of the Library of Congress.

Unlike many of his peers in the so-called Great American Songbook, his most famous (popular?) works are currently hard to find in print. No songbook anthology has been published yet.

Sources: wikipedia, youtube,

Musical credits

Sammy Davis Jr

Samuel George “Sammy” Davis, Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American entertainer.

Primarily a dancer and singer, Davis was a childhood vaudevillian, and became known for his performances on Broadway and in Las Vegas, as a recording artist, television and film star, and the only black member of Frank Sinatra‘s “Rat Pack“.

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At the age of three Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and “uncle” as the Will Mastin Trio, toured nationally, and after military service, returned to the trio. Davis became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro’s after the 1951 Academy Awards, with the trio, became a recording artist, and made his first film performances as an adult later that decade. Losing his left eye in a car accident in 1954, he converted to Judaism and appeared in the first Rat Pack movie, Ocean’s 11, in 1960. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956’s Mr Wonderful, Davis returned to the stage in 1964’s Golden Boy, and in 1966 had his own TV variety show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis’s career slowed in the late sixties, but he had a hit record with “The Candy Man“, in 1972, and became a star in Las Vegas.

As an African-American, Davis was the victim of racism throughout his life, and was a large financial supporter of civil rights causes. Davis had a complex relationship with the black community, and attracted criticism after physically embracing Richard Nixon in 1970. One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. “Handicap?” he asked. “Talk about handicap — I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.”[1][2] This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.[3]

7 Year old Sammy Davis Jr

1985 Sammy Singing “Mr. Bojangles” in Germany.

After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before dying of throat cancer in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and his estate was the subject of legal battles.

Davis was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP, and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for his television performances. He was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987, and in 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Samuel George Davis, Jr. was born in New York City, New York, to Sammy Davis, Sr. (1900–1988), an African-American entertainer, and his wife Elvera Sanchez (1905–2000),[4] a tap dancer. During his lifetime, Davis, Jr. stated that his mother was Puerto Rican and born in San Juan; however, in the 2003 biography In Black and White, author Wil Haygood writes that Davis, Jr.’s mother was born in New York City to Cuban American parents, and that Davis, Jr. claimed he was Puerto Rican because he feared anti-Cuban backlash would hurt his record sales.[5][6][7]

1962 “What Kind of Fool Am I?” with Andy Williams

Davis’s parents were vaudeville dancers. As an infant, he was raised by his paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents separated. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour. Davis learned to dance from his father and his “uncle” Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Throughout his career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing. Mastin and his father shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as jealousy, for instance. When Davis served in the United States Army during World War II, however, he was confronted by strong racial prejudice. He later said, “Overnight the world looked different. It wasn’t one color any more. I could see the protection I’d gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated their loving hope that I’d never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I’d walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open.” 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.[8]

“Candy Man”

After his discharged at the war’s end, Davis rejoined his family dance act, which played at clubs around Portland, Oregon. He began to achieve success on his own and he was singled out for praise by critics, releasing several albums.[9] This led to his appearance in the Broadway play Mr. Wonderful in 1956.

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. Initially, Sinatra called the gathering “the Clan”, but Sammy voiced his opposition, saying that it reminded people of the racist Ku Klux Klan. Sinatra renamed the group “the Summit”, but the media referred to them as the Rat Pack.

Davis was a headliner at The Frontier Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, but he was required (as were all black performers in the 1950s) to stay in a rooming house on the west side of the city, instead of sleeping in the hotels as his white entertainers did. No dressing rooms were provided for black performers, and they had waited outside by the swimming pool between acts.[10]

“The Lady is a Tramp”

“I’ve Gotta Be Me”

During his early years in Las Vegas, Davis and other African-American artists could entertain, but usually could neither stay at the hotels where they performed, gamble in the casinos, nor dine or drink in the hotel restaurants and bars. Davis later refused to work at places which practiced racial segregation. His demands would lead to the integration of Miami Beach nightclubs and Las Vegas casinos, an accomplishment Davis justly took pride in.[11]

With the Rat Pack -“Birth of the Blues”

“One For My Baby”

In 1964, Davis was starring in Golden Boy at night and shooting his own New York-based afternoon talk show during the day. When he could get a day off from the theater, he would be in the studio recording new songs, or performing live, often at charity benefits as far away as Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas, or doing television variety specials in Los Angeles. Davis knew he was cheating his family of his company, but he could not help himself; as he later said, he was incapable of standing still.

Although he was still a draw in Las Vegas, Davis’s musical career had sputtered by the latter 1960s, although he had a #11 hit (#1 on the Easy Listening singles chart) with “I’ve Gotta Be Me” in 1969. To update his sound and reconnect with younger people resulted in some embarrassing “hip” musical efforts with the Motown record label.[12] But then, even as his career seemed at its nadir, Sammy had an unexpected hit with “Candy Man“. Although he did not particularly care for the song and was chagrined that he was now best known for it, Davis made the most of his opportunity and revitalized his career. Although he enjoyed no more Top 40 hits, he did enjoy popularity with his performance of the theme song from the T.V. series Baretta (1975–1978) which was not released as a single but was given radio play and he remained a live act beyond Vegas for his career. He occasionally landed television and film parts, including cameo visits to the All in the Family (during which he kisses Archie Bunker (Carrol O’Connor) on the cheek) and, with wife Altovise Davis, on Charlie’s Angels. In the 1970s, he appeared in commercials in Japan for Suntory whiskey.

“I Can’t Get Started” on the David Letterman Show. Possibly Sammy’s last TV appearance.

On December 11, 1967, NBC broadcast a musical-variety special entitled Movin’ With Nancy. In addition to the Emmy Award-winning musical performances, the show is notable for Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. greeting each other with a kiss, one of the first black-white kisses in U.S. television history.[13]

“Christmas with the Rat Pack. Sammy singing, “Jingle Bells”

In Japan, Davis appeared in television commercials for coffee, and in the U.S. he joined Sinatra and Martin in a radio commercial for a Chicago car dealership.

Davis was a fan of the daytime soap operas, particularly the shows produced by the American Broadcasting Company. This led to his making a cameo appearance on General Hospital and playing the recurring character Chip Warren on One Life to Live for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination in 1980. He was featured on the CBS News with Walter Cronkite in a profile filed by current CBS News political correspondent Jeff Greenfield about the finale episode of Love of Life in 1980. He was a game show fan, making a cameo on the ABC version of Family Feud in 1979, and hosting a question with Richard Dawson watching from the sidelines. He appeared on Tattletales with third wife Altovise Davis in the 1970s. He made a cameo during an episode of the NBC version of Card Sharks in 1981.

Davis was an avid photographer who enjoyed shooting family and acquaintances. His body of work was detailed in a 2007 book by Burt Boyar. “Jerry [Lewis] gave me my first important camera, my first 35 millimeter, during the Ciro’s period, early ’50s”, Boyar quotes Davis. “And he hooked me.” Davis used a medium format camera later on to capture images. Again quoting Davis, “Nobody interrupts a man taking a picture to ask… ‘What’s that nigger doin’ here?’ “. His catalogue of photos include rare shots of his father dancing onstage as part of the Will Mastin Trio and intimate snapshots of close friends Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, James Dean, Nat “King” Cole, and Marilyn Monroe. His political affiliations also were represented, in his images of Robert Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. His most revealing work comes in photographs of wife May Britt and their three children, Tracey, Jeff and Mark.

“Out Of This World” – a lesser known Harold Arlen song.

Davis was an enthusiastic shooter and gun owner. He participated in fast-draw competition and was said to be capable of drawing and firing a Colt Single Action revolver in less than a quarter of a second. Davis was skilled at fast and fancy gun spinning, and appeared on T.V. variety shows showing off this skill. He appeared in western films and as a guest star on several “Golden Age” T.V. westerns. Davis nearly died in an automobile accident on November 19, 1954 in San Bernardino, California, as he was making a return trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.[14] The accident occurred at a fork in U.S. Highway 66 at Cajon Blvd and Kendall Drive. Davis lost his left eye as a result, and wore an eye patch for at least six months following the accident.[15][16] He appeared on What’s My Line wearing the patch.[17] Later, he was fitted for a glass eye, which he wore for the rest of his life. While in the hospital, his friend Eddie Cantor told him about the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. Prompted by this conversation, Davis — who was born to a Catholic mother and Protestant father — began studying the history of Jews and converted to Judaism several years later.[1][18] One passage from his readings, describing the endurance of the Jewish people, intrigued him in particular: “The Jews would not die. Three millennia of prophetic teaching had given them an unwavering spirit of resignation and had created in them a will to live which no disaster could crush”.[19] In many ways, the accident marked a turning point in Davis’s career, taking him from a well-known entertainer to a national celebrity and icon.[14]

On the Dean Martin Show. Look at Sammy’s pants! Did we all like that back then?

In the mid-1950s, Sammy was involved with Kim Novak, a star under contract to Columbia Studios. The head of the studio, Harry Cohn, was worried about the negative effect this would have on the studio because of the prevailing taboo against miscegenation. He called his friend, the mobster Johnny Roselli, who was asked to tell Davis that he had to stop the affair with Novak. Roselli arranged for Davis to be kidnapped for a few hours to throw a scare into him. His hastily arranged and soon-dissolved marriage to black dancer Loray White in 1958 was an attempt to quiet the controversy.[20]

In 1960, Davis caused controversy when he married white Swedish-born actress May Britt. Davis received hate mail while starring in the Broadway musical adaptation of Golden Boy from 1964-1966 (for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor). At the time Davis appeared in the play, interracial marriages were forbidden by law in 31 US states, and only in 1967 were those laws ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. The couple had one daughter and adopted two sons. Davis performed almost continuously and spent little time with his wife. They divorced in 1968, after Davis admitted to having had an affair with singer Lola Falana. That year, Davis started dating Altovise Gore, a dancer in Golden Boy. They were married on May 11, 1970 by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. They adopted a child, and remained married until Davis’s death in 1990.

Sammy and the Supremes

Although Davis had been voting Democratic, he had felt a lack of respect from the John F. Kennedy White House. He had been removed from the bill of the inaugural party hosted by Sinatra for the new President because of Davis’s recent interracial marriage to May Britt on November 13, 1960.[21]

In the early 1970s, Davis supported Republican President Richard M. Nixon (and gave the startled President a hug on live TV). The incident was controversial, and Davis was given a hostile reception by his peers, despite the intervention of Jesse Jackson. Previously he had won their respect with his performance as Joe Wellington Jr. in Golden Boy and his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Nixon invited Davis to sleep in the White House in 1973, which is believed to be the first time an African-American was invited to do so. Davis spent the night in the Queen’s Bedroom.[22] Unlike Frank Sinatra, Davis voted Democratic for president again after the Nixon administration, supporting the campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988.

Sammy with Arsenio

Davis died in Beverly Hills, California on May 16, 1990, of complications from throat cancer. Earlier, when he was told he could be saved by surgery, Davis replied he would rather keep his voice than have a part of his throat removed; he subsequently was treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.[23] However, a few weeks prior to his death his entire larynx was removed during surgery.[24] He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California next to his father and Will Mastin. Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, coincidentally died the same day as Davis.

On May 18, 1990, two days after Davis’s death, the neon lights of the Las Vegas strip were darkened for ten minutes, as a tribute to him.

Source: wikipedia, youtube,,

Grammy Awards

Year Category Song Result Notes
2002 Grammy Hall of Fame Award What Kind of Fool Am I? Inducted Recorded in 1962
2001 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
1972 Pop Male Vocalist Candy Man Nominee
1962 Record of the Year What Kind of Fool Am I Nominee
1962 Male Solo Vocal Performance What Kind of Fool Am I Nominee

Emmy Awards

Year Category Program Result
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Sammy Davis Jr.’s 60th Anniversary Celebration Winner[26]
1989 Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series The Cosby Show Nominee
1980 Outstanding Cameo Appearance in a Daytime Drama Series One Life to Live Nominee
1966 Outstanding Variety Special The Swinging World of Sammy Davis Jr. Nominee
1956 Best Specialty Act — Single or Group Sammy Davis Jr. Nominee

Other honors

Year Category Organization Program Result
2008 International Civil Rights
Walk of Fame
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site Inducted
2006 Las Vegas Walk of Stars[27] front of Riviera Hotel Inducted
1989 NAACP Image Award NAACP Winner
1987 Kennedy Center Honors John F. Kennedy Center for
the Performing Arts
1977 Best TV Actor — Musical/Comedy Golden Globe Sammy and Company (1975) Nominee
1974 Special Citation Award National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Winner
1968 NAACP Spingarn Medal Award NAACP Winner
1965 Best Actor — Musical Tony Award Golden Boy Nominee
1960[28] Hollywood Walk of Fame Star at 6254 Hollywood Blvd


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Hit Records

Year Single Chart positions
U.S. U.S.
Country UK
1954 “Hey There” 16 19
“The Red Grapes” 28
1955 “Something’s Gotta Give” 9 11
“Love Me Or Leave Me” 12 8
“That Old Black Magic” 13 16
“I’ll Know” 87
1956 “Five” 71
“Earthbound” 46
“New York’s My Home” 59
“In a Persian Market” 28
“All of You” 28
1960 “Happy To Make Your Acquaintance”(with Carmen McRae) 46
1962 “What Kind of Fool Am I” 17 6 26
“Gonna Build a Mountain” flip
“Me and My Shadow”(with Frank Sinatra) 64 18 20
“Sam’s Song”(with Dean Martin) 94
1963 “As Long As She Needs Me” 59 19
“The Shelter of Your Arms” 17 6
1964 “Choose” 112
“Be Bom” 135
“Don’t Shut Me Out” 106
1965 “If I Ruled the World” 135
“No One Can Live Forever” 117 33
1967 “Don’t Blame the Children” 37
1968 “Lonely Is the Name” 93 12
“Break My Mind” 106
“I’ve Gotta Be Me” 11 1
1969 “Rhythm of Life” 124
“I Have But One Life To Live” 119
1972 “The Candy Man” 1 1
“The People Tree” 92 16
1973 “I’d Be a Legend In My Time” 116 29
1974 “Singin’ In the Rain” 16
“That’s Entertainment” 41
1975 “Chico and the Man” 24
“Song and Dance Man” 32
1976 “Baretta’s Theme” 101 42
1982 “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke” 89