On this date in 1925, the greatest entertainer ever produced in the United States was born.
If you’re not a Sammy Davis Jr. fan, or aren’t at least open-minded about popular music of the mid-20th century, stop reading now.
Parts of Sammy Davis Jr.’s, story are well known; how he was born in Harlem and was dancing on stage with his father in the Will Mastin Trio by the time most kids are learning to walk. At age 7, he starred in a Vitaphone Short.
In ensuing years, Davis and the Trio went through personal and show business ups and downs. Davis eventually went solo and, beginning in the 1950s, attained nightclub, TV, Broadway, and movie stardom. He also became a member of the famed “Rat Pack.”
Though his talent was never doubted, Davis was very “show biz.” As a result, he wasn’t always taken seriously as an artist and occasionally was the subject of parody.
If the Neru jacket-wearing, finger-snapping, jazz hipster-talking guy who punctuates every sentence with “man” is the image that comes to mind when the name Sammy Davis Jr. is spoken, you haven’t heard Sammy Davis Jr. sings, Laurindo Almeida plays.
This long-forgotten album from 1966 is simply Davis accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, played by Brazilian jazz guitarist Almeida. Everything about it is amazing.
Though famous for his dynamic “I’ve gotta be me” performing style, on this album Davis couldn’t be more relaxed and the recording could not be more intimate. Davis takes his time on well-known standards and, truly, makes them his own, including some famously recorded previously by his friend Frank Sinatra.
Since I first learned of this album’s existence more than a decade ago, I’ve been on a quest to find a perfect copy on vinyl.
I’m still searching, but there is a terrific remastered CD that you can look for.
The bad news is, it’s out of print and pricey. The good news is, it’s worth it.
If you don’t believe me, listen.
Celebrate Sammy Davis’ birthday by giving yourself the gift of hearing a great, underrated singer at his absolute best.
Wikipedia: Sammy Davis Jr.
2006 NPR review of the remastered CD: A Song-and-Dance Man, Reconsidered
Vitaphone Short – Rufus Jones for President (1933)
Davis loved to take chances. Here he performs a medley of songs from West Side Story accompanied only by bongos.
In one of this last TV appearances, on Late Night with David Letterman – I Can’t Get Started.