Caribbean Roots: Sammy Davis, Jr.

Go Lean Commentary

cu-blog-sammy-davis-jr-caribbean-roots-photo-1The movement behind the book Go Lean … Caribbean recognizes the significance of this day, December 8th as the 91st birthday of the late great American entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr..

The Go Lean book identifies that music and the arts can greatly impact society; in addition to the entertainment value, there is also image, impression and advocacy – music can move people to change. People can override many false precepts with excellent deliveries and contributions of great role models, despite any handicaps.

“Talk about handicap. I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.” – Sammy Davis Jr. Quote

Here’s a little known Black History fact:

The mother of Sammy Davis Jr., Elvera Sanchez, was an Afro-Cuban tap dancer.[A]

So this great American entertainer actually had Caribbean roots. Wow! See the encyclopedic details here:

Title: Elvera Sanchez
Elvera Sanchez (September 1, 1905 – September 2, 2000) was an American dancer and the mother of Sammy Davis Jr..

During his lifetime, Davis Jr. stated that his mother was Puerto Rican and born in San Juan; however, in the 2003 biography In Black and White, author Wil Haygood wrote that Davis’ mother was born in New York City, of Afro-Cuban descent, and that Davis claimed she was Puerto Rican because he feared anti-Cuban backlash would hurt his record sales.
Title: Sammy Davis Jr.
Samuel George “Sammy” Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American entertainer. Primarily a dancer and singer, he was also an actor of stage and screen, comedian, musician, and impressionist, noted for his impersonations of actors, musicians and other celebrities. At the age of 3, Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and Will Mastin as the Will Mastin Trio, which toured nationally. After military service, Davis returned to the trio. Davis 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, he lost his left eye in a car accident, and several years later, he converted to Judaism.

Davis’s film career began as a child in 1933. In 1960, he appeared in the Rat Pack film Ocean’s 11. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956’s Mr Wonderful, he returned to the stage in 1964’s Golden Boy. In 1966 he had his own TV variety show, titled The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis’s career slowed in the late 1960s, but he had a hit record with “The Candy Man” in 1972 and became a star in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname “Mister Show Business”.

Davis was a victim of racism throughout his life, particularly during the pre-Civil Rights era, and was a large financial supporter of the Civil Rights movement. Davis had a complex relationship with the black community, and drew criticism after physically embracing 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 Jew.” This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.

After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before he died of throat cancer in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service,[9] and his estate was the subject of legal battles.

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 the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987, and in 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Source: Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia – Retrieved December 6, 2016 from:

cu-blog-sammy-davis-jr-caribbean-roots-photo-3Though he died over 26 years ago, we still feel his impact. Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the most iconic characters in the American 20th Century. But his shadow spread across the entire African-descended world, not just America. He fomented and fostered a great image for African-descended entertainers. For this reason, the annual Soul Train Award for Best Entertainer of the Year has been renamed the Sammy Davis Jr. Award. (Soul Train refers to the weekly 1-hour TV program showcasing African-American Musicians and Dancers).

Since its inception in 1915, the American Civil Rights agency, the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP), campaigned to elevate the status and image of Black people in America and beyond.  This “image” precept is also an important factor in the roadmap to elevate Caribbean society. So the Go Lean book details a plan to monitor for defamations against the Caribbean image; this includes recognition and appreciation for Caribbean achievement as well. As  follows, this excerpt (Page 133) from Go Lean book highlights this “Image Quest”:

The majority of the Caribbean population descends from an African ancestry – a legacy of slavery from previous centuries. Despite the differences in nationality, culture and language, the image of the African Diaspora is all linked hand-in-hand. And thus, when Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Bob Marley impacted the world with their contributions, the reverberations were felt globally, not just in their homelands. It is hard for one segment of the black world to advance when other segments have a negative global image. This is exemplified with the election of Barack Obama as US President; his election was viewed as an ascent for the entire Black race.

Over 100 years ago, the NAACP came to understand the power and influence of the then new medium of film and added the mandate to their charter to confront the misuse of media to influence negative public attitudes toward race. … Today, the NAACP Hollywood Bureau continues to monitor the industry for offensive and defamatory images in film and television. It also sponsors the Image Awards Show to honor outstanding people of color in film, television, music, and literature, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors.

Sammy Davis, Jr. was awarded the NAACP Image Award in 1989.

The book Go Lean…Caribbean serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). This CU strives to advance Caribbean image and culture with these 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance.

This roadmap recognizes that a prerequisite for advancing society is a change in the Caribbean community ethos. Early in the book, the contributions that culture (music, film, theater, dance and artistic expressions) can make is pronounced as an ethos for the entire region to embrace, (opening Declaration of Interdependence – DOI – Pages 15) with these statements:

xxxii. Whereas the cultural arts and music of the region are germane to the quality of Caribbean life, and the international appreciation of Caribbean life, the Federation must implement the support systems to teach, encourage, incentivize, monetize and promote the related industries for arts and music in domestic and foreign markets. These endeavors will make the Caribbean a better place to live, work and play.

Sammy Davis Jr. – an American of Caribbean descent – was the embodiment of all of these above values. He impacted the music, culture and image of African American in his country, and thusly impacted the Black image for the rest of the world. Like Caribbean musical icon, Bob Marley, Sammy Davis Jr. set a pathway for success for other generations of talented, inspirational and influential artists to follow. Other artists of Caribbean heritage are sure to emerge and “impact the world”. We are preparing for it, as specified in the same DOI – Page 13:

xxi. Whereas the preparation of our labor force can foster opportunities and dictate economic progress for current and future generations, the Federation must ensure that educational and job training opportunities are fully optimized for all residents of all member-states, with no partiality towards any gender or ethnic group. The Federation must recognize and facilitate excellence in many different fields of endeavor, including sciences, languages, arts, music and sports. This responsibility should be executed without incurring the risks of further human flight, as has been the past history.

The CU represents the change that has come to the Caribbean. The people, institutions and governance of region are all urged to “lean-in” to this roadmap for change. We know it is important to highlight the positive contributions of Caribbean people, even their descendants and legacies.

We salute those ones from our past, people like Elvera Sanchez who left Cuba as a youth for opportunities in the world of entertainment. We know there are “new” Elvera Sanchez-types and “new” Sammy Davis-types throughout Caribbean member-states, waiting to be fostered. We salute them as our future.

The following list details the community ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to foster future entertainers in the Caribbean:

Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius Page 27
Community Ethos – Promote Intellectual Property Page 29
Community Ethos – Ways to Promote Happiness Page 36
Community Ethos – Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Caribbean Vision Page 45
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Patents & Copyrights Page 78
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Culture Administration Page 81
Implementation – Ways to Impact Social Media Page 111
Advocacy – Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 131
Advocacy – Ways to Better Manage Image Page 133
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Hollywood Page 203
Advocacy – Ways to Improve the Arts Page 230
Advocacy – Ways to Promote Music Page 231

Sammy Davis, Jr. also impacted the world of politics and civil rights. See here:


Davis was a registered Democrat – [as most African Americans] – and supported John F. Kennedy’s 1960 election campaign as well as Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 campaign.[43]

However, he became a close friend to President Richard Nixon and publicly endorsed him at the 1972 Republican National Convention.[43] Davis also made a USO tour to South Vietnam – during the Vietnam War – at Nixon’s request. Previously, Davis had won Nixon’s respect with his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Nixon invited Davis and his wife, Altovise, to sleep in the White House in 1973, the first time African Americans were invited to do so. The Davises spent the night in the Queens’ Bedroom.[44]

Davis was a long-time donor to the Reverend Jesse Jackson‘s Operation PUSH organization. Jackson also performed Davis’s wedding.[45]


Sammy Davis Jr. came, saw and conquered! He fit the definition of a role model, where he overcame obstacles and made an impact to benefit more than just himself.

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.”[B]Booker T Washington.

Previously, this blog-commentary identified other role models in these submissions: Remembering Marcus Garvey: A Role Model; Still Relevant Today NBA Greatness and Caribbean Roots: Tim Duncan Retires YouTube Role Model with Caribbean Roots: ‘Tipsy Bartender’ Frederick Douglass: Role Model for a Single Cause Dr. Mobley – Role Model as a Business School Dean Caribbean Role Model – Oscar De La Renta – RIP Role Models in Contrast: Booker T Washington versus W.E.B. Du Bois Role Model and Humanities Advocate – Maya Angelou – R.I.P. Caribbean Musical Icon and Role Model: Bob Marley

The world is a better place because of Sammy Davis Jr.  being born on this day in 1925. Thank you “Candy Man” for all the love you showed for your craft, your country and your people. See the VIDEO here of his 1987 Kennedy Center Induction:

VIDEO – Sammy Davis, JR. “Honoree” – 10th Kennedy Center Honors, 1987 –

Published on Jan 20, 2015 – LUCILLE BALL introduces honoree SAMMY DAVIS, JR. Excellent performances for Sammy by RAY CHARLES “Birth Of The Blues” & tap dancers, in order of appearance onto stage: 1 & 2) The NICOLAS BROTHERS (HAROLD & FAYARD), 3) CHUCK GREEN, 4) JIMMY SLYDE, and 5) ‘SANDMAN’ SIMS.

We carry on without Sammy Davis Jr., but we are better off for his role model and forever impacted by his legacy. 🙂

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!


Appendix Reference A

“Elvera Sanchez Davis, obituary, September 8, 2000”The New York Times. September 8, 2000. Retrieved September 18, 2009.


Appendix Reference B

Harlan, Louis R (1972), Booker T. Washington: volume 1: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856–1901. The major scholarly biography.

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