The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.

A joyous performer who used his fame to fight racism

The Start of His Fame

Sammy Davis Jr was born December 8th, 1925. His parents separated when he was 3 years old, and he went to live with his father, Sammy Davis Sr, who was an entertainer in a dance troupe. From a young age, he performed with his father and his uncle, Will Mastin, and they became the Will Mastin Trio. He performed a lot in his childhood, and became a skilled singer, dancer, multi-instrumentalist, comedian and actor.


In 1943, Sammy Davis Jr was drafted into the army, at the height of World War ll. There, he experienced terrible racial prejudice and harassment from the white soldiers. However, he managed to find comfort in entertaining the soldiers, earning their respect and keeping himself safe. After the war, he continued performing with the Will Mastin Trio, who also performed with the famous Frank Sinatra.

The Accident, Recovery and Beyond

In 1954 in Los Angeles, Sammy Davis Jr was in a horrible car accident. This caused him to lose an eye, and he had to use a glass eye most of his life. While in recovery, he reflected on his life. He spoke with a rabbi and soon converted to Judaism, finding that the struggles of Jewish people and African Americans were similar.


Sammy Davis Jr refused to let his injury stop him from performing. Soon, he released his first 2 albums, and made many appearances on TV and in concert. He starred with Chita Rivera in the 1956 musical Mr. Wonderful.


Sammy Davis Jr was part of the well-known Rat Pack of musicians. He was in the group with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.


Along with his many other achievements, Sammy Davis Jr started his own TV show, The Sammy Davis Jr Show in 1966, and Sammy and Company from 1975-1977.

Social Activism

Sammy Davis Jr used his fame for standing up against racism. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, even participating in the 1963 March on Washington. Because he refused to perform at segregated locations, many nightclubs integrated so that he could perform there. He also challenged interracial marriage laws by marrying Swedish actress May Britt in the time when interracial marriages were banned from many areas.

The End of his Life

Sammy Davis Jr's career continued into the 70's and 80's, and he made several music, film and television debuts during that time. However, he smoked a lot throughout his life, and in 1989 a tumor was discovered in his throat. He made his last performance at Harrah's Casino in Lake Tahoe. He died in his home on May 16th, 1990. He was 64 years old.


Sammy Davis Jr was famous for bringing joy to whatever stage he performed on, whether with comedy, singing, dancing, acting or anything else. He used his fame for standing up against racism, and he will be remembered well for all that he did.