From the Rat Pack to “The Candy Man”—7 Classic Sammy Davis Jr. Songs and Moments

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Born on December 8, 1925, Samuel George Davis Jr. became one of the best-known American performers in the mid-20th century. He was well known as a dancer, actor, stage performer, comedian, film producer, television show director, and more before he passed away on May 16, 1990.

Here, we will dive into some of the most important achievements and moments in Davis’ career, from his work with the infamous Rat Pack to his hit single, “The Candy Man,” and his adult life as a celebrity with one eye after losing the other in a car accident.

1. It Begins

Sammy Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father Sammy Davis Sr. and the Will Mastin Trio at the ripe old age of three years old. The group toured nationally. Later, his film career began at the age of 8 in 1933.

2. Military Service

After serving in the military, Davis returned to the Will Mastin Trio and his star was on the rise following an acclaimed performance in Ciro’s nightclub in West Hollywood following the 1951 Academy Awards.

3. Losing His Eye

In 1954, at 29 years old, Davis lost his left eye in a car accident. The reality of living with one eye would be a source of humor and of self-consciousness for his entire life.

4. Converting to Judaism

Several years after losing his eye, Davis converted to Judaism saying that he found commonalities between the oppression he experienced as an African-American and that felt by Jewish communities. When asked about his “handicap,” Davis famously replied, “Talk about handicap. I’m a one-eyed Negro who’s Jewish.”

5. Success and The Rat Pack

Davis enjoyed a starring role on Broadway in the performance of the play, Mr. Wonderful, with actress Chita Rivera in 1956. It was one of the seminal moments that helped propel him to be part of perhaps the most famous entertainment collective in the 20th century: The Rat Pack. He appeared in the film Ocean’s 11 along with fellow Pack members like Frank Sinatra. Other members of the Rat Pack included Dean Martin and Peter Lawford.

6. “The Candy Man”

Davis’ biggest recording hit was likely the song “The Candy Man.” That track reached No. 1 atop the Billboard Hot 100 in June of 1972. It helped him become a full-fledged star in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname “Mister Show Business.”

7. Breaking the Race Barrier

Davis’ success in entertainment helped break down walls in American race relations. Though he had a complex relationship with the Black community, which included criticism from others due to his support of Republican President Richard Nixon, the visibility he offered was important in helping to move the country forward.

(Photo by Fred Ihrt/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Leave a Reply

Behind the Meaning of the Band Name 311 (Hint: WE’RE GOING STREAKING)

Grace Bello Reworks Justin Bieber’s “Ghost” for Four-Chair Turn on ‘The Voice’