In Black America Podcast: Remembering Sammy Davis, Jr. with Wil Haygood
On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with Wil Haygood, author of In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. He was, for decades, one of the most recognizable figures in the cultural landscape, his image epitomizing a golden age of American show business. His career spanned a lifetime, but for years he has remained hidden behind the persona he so vigorously generated, and so fiercely protected.
In scrupulous detail and with stunning powers of evocation, Haygood takes us back to the era of vaudeville, where it all began for 4 years old Davis who ran out onstage one night and stole the show. From then on it was a motherless childhood on the road, singing and dancing his way across a segregated America with his father and the formidable showman Will Mastin, struggling together to survive the Depression and the demise of vaudeville itself.
With an ambition honed by poverty and an obsessive need for applause, Davis drove his way into the nightclub circuit of the 1940s and 1950s, when, his father and Mastin aging and out of style, he slowly began to make a name for himself, hustling his way to top billing and eventually to recording contracts. From there, he was to stake his claim on Broadway, in Hollywood, and, of course, in Las Vegas.
Davis died on May 16, 1990. He was 64. In memoriam, the lights on the Las Vegas Strip were darkened for 10 minutes, an event that had happened previously only for the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and of Martin Luther King, Jr.