By Hans Ebert

I don’t know how it happened and why it happened but it did and I am incredibly grateful for it: I was reminded of the great Sammy Davis Jr via his show-stopping version of Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr Bojangles.

Sure, there are others versions of the song- Harry Nilsson’s being right up there and Robbie Williams’ being bad parody- but Sammy’s version, well it’s the best because it belongs to him or else he knew Mr Bojangles or he was related to the song and dance man.

What a truly brilliant song, what a brilliant version and what an underrated artist was Sammy Davis Jr.

I started to think about this artist while having dinner with a friend and discussing, of all things, horse racing- how to market it better, how it should be part of entertainment etc- before our conversation wandered into movies- Pacino and DeNiro, , Coppola- and then onto JFK and The Rat Pack, Oceans 11, Sinatra and his mob connections, Robert Kennedy and which led to our individual connections with Sammy Davis Jr.

(Source: Rat Pack Revival)

Our stories were similar: Thanks to Sammy, we managed to party with the man himself, smoke a few joints and get laid by his five backup dancers while in our teens and on one memorable night in two very parts of the world.

Call it synchronicity, but we then thought about this remarkable performer’s version of Mr Bojangles which he made his own.

It also made me go home instead of partying all night; I had to listen to Mr.Bojangles and when I did, I thought about black performers in, at that time, prejudiced and segregated America and what they must have gone through- especially this tiny black man with the crooked smile and one glass eye.

Sure, he had Sinatra and Ol’ Blue Eyes’ mob connections, but he also had the Hollywood studio system against him and which brought to an end his relationship with the cold, blonde beauty that was actress Kim Novak.

(Source: National Enquirer)

A black man and a young up-and-coming blonde actress was a big no-no. For Kim Novak, it would have been the kiss of death and career suicide.

Same for Sammy Davis Jr and which eventually led him to marry the pretty much unknown actress Mai Britt. The marriage lasted longer than many thought.

(Source: IMDB)

But what about the man that was Sammy David Junior? Was he happy to play the Uncle Tom as part of The Rat Pack?

How much do we know about this performer who broke down racial barriers and was the biggest influence on Michael Jackson?

Perhaps all the answers are in his version of Mr Bojangles.

In the end, it’s a very sad story and one which takes me to some very personal times and places.

Thank you for so much, Mr. Davis. You made me grow up fast and Mr Bojangles makes me age respecting the past. This world owes you a huge debt.

One day, you will have ALL the respect you deserve. And the respect Mr Bojangles deserves.

  1. scott moyer says:

    My friend Clayton Cameron playing drums with Sammy for 10 or 12 years and my 1st cousin Margaret Magill playing violin in his orchestra. All the stories are all good and fun to recount of Sammy Davis…who I saw perform in Hong Kong in 1963, I believe it was…and he was fantastic …..20 years later, 1983 or 84, I was at a 4th of July party in Beverly Hills at the home of the man who directed Planet of the Apes and Sammy was out back walking around by himself by the pool in a plaid shirt, different colored plaid pants and sandals just kicking back. What a genuinely nice man he was and simply a ball of talent underneath his humble self having to live in an ordinary world with such an extraordinary talent. Few could ever do all the things he managed to do with his God given skills.

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