GM – FBF – Today’s American Champion was an American singer, dancer, actor, vaudevillian and comedian whom critic Randy Blaser called “the greatest entertainer ever to grace a stage in these United States.” At age three, Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father Sammy Davis Sr. and the Will Mastin Trio, which toured nationally, and his film career began in 1933. After military service, Davis returned to the trio and became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro’s (in West Hollywood) after the 1951 Academy Awards.With the trio, he became a recording artist. In 1954, at the age of 29, he lost his left eye in a car accident. Several years later, he converted to Judaism, finding commonalities between the oppression experienced by African-American and Jewish communities. After a starring role on Broadway in Mr. Wonderful with Chita Rivera (1956), he returned to the stage in 1964 in a musical adaptation of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy opposite Paula Wayne. Davis was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance and the show was said to have featured the first interracial kiss on Broadway. In 1960, he appeared in the Rat Pack film Ocean’s 11.In 1966, he had his own TV variety show, titled The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. While Davis’s career slowed in the late 1960s, his biggest hit, “The Candy Man”, reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1972, and he became a star in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname “Mister Show Business”.Davis’s popularity helped break the race barrier of the segregated entertainment industry. He did however have a complex relationship with the black community and drew criticism after publicly supporting President Richard Nixon in 1972.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 who’s Jewish.” This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography and in many articles. After reuniting with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before his death in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and his estate was the subject of legal battles after the death of his wife. Davis was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award for his television performances. He was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987, and in 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.Today in our History – March 23, 1951- the Will Mastin Trio appeared at Ciro’s as the opening act for headliner Janis Paige. They were to perform for only 20 minutes, but the reaction from the celebrity-filled crowd was so enthusiastic, especially when Davis launched into his impressions, that they performed for nearly an hour, and Paige insisted the order of the show be flipped. Davis began to achieve success on his own and was singled out for praise by critics, releasing several albums. Davis’ talent was developed at a young age. At the age of three, he started dancing in vaudeville and eventually joined forces with his father and Will Mastin as the Will Mastin Trio. In 1933, he made his film debut in “Rufus Jones for President.” Thanks to the calculated efforts of his father and “Uncle” Will Mastin, Davis was shielded from the harsh realities of racism. When he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II, Davis encountered blatant racial discrimination for the first time.“Overnight the world looked different,” Davis said, as noted by The Oral Cancer Foundation. “It wasn’t one color anymore. 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.”Eventually, he was transferred to an entertainment regiment, which lessen the mistreatment he had received up until that point.“My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight,” he said. “It was the one way I might hope to affect a man’s thinking,”After he was discharged from the military, he rejoined the Will Mastin Trio. By the 1950s, the group was headlining major acts throughout the nation. However, in 1954, he was involved in a car accident in which he lost his eye. During his recovery, he spoke with a rabbi and learned of many similarities between the struggles endured by Jewish people and Black Americans. After the incident, he converted to Judaism and frequently joked that he was the only one-eyed Jewish Black man in entertainment.Davis’s first two albums, “Starring Sammy Davis, Jr.,” “and Sammy Davis, Jr. Sings Just for Lovers,” both received much critical and commercial acclaim. He appeared in various television shows and became a founding member of the Rat Pack along with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, which allotted him a reliable income and a high profile.Despite his success, he was a frequent target of racism in his personal and professional lives. He eventually refused to perform at venues that practiced racial segregation, and was forced to hire bodyguards after he married his second wife. During the 1960s, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.Davis continued his groundbreaking career throughout the 1970s and 80s, with various television appearances and chart-topping hits. However, his health began to decline and in 1989, a tumor was discovered in his throat. In April 1990, a television special was filmed in Davis’ honor, and a few weeks later, he passed away from throat cancer. In memoriam, the lights on the Las Vegas Strip were darkened for 10 minutes; only the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and of Martin Luther King, Jr., were previously granted the same honor.Davis was granted many accolades throughout his life. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award. He was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP. In 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.Various biographies and autobiograhies were released during his life and after. In 1965, he published his first autobiography “Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr.,” and “Why Me?” in 1980. A third autobiography, “Sammy,” was released posthumously in 2000, and the Wil Haygood biography, “In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.,” was published in 2003.In August 1989, Davis began to develop symptoms: a tickle in his throat and an inability to taste food. Doctors found a cancerous tumor in Davis’s throat. He had often smoked four packs of cigarettes a day as an adult. When told that surgery (laryngectomy) offered him the best chance of survival, Davis replied he would rather keep his voice than have a part of his throat removed; he was initially treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. His larynx was later removed when his cancer recurred. He was released from the hospital on March 13, 1990. Davis died of complications from throat cancer two months later at his home in Beverly Hills, California, on May 16, 1990, at age 64. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. On May 18, 1990, two days after his death, the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip were darkened for 10 minutes as a tribute. Research more about this great American Champion and share it with your babies. Make it a champion day!