Recognized throughout much of his career as "the world's greatest living entertainer," Sammy Davis Jr. was a remarkably popular and versatile performer equally adept at acting, singing, dancing, and impersonations -- in short, a variety artist in the classic tradition. A member of the famed Rat Pack, he was among the very first African-American talents to find favor with audiences on both sides of the color barrier, and he remains a perennial icon of cool. Born in Harlem on December 8, 1925, Davis made his stage debut at the age of three, performing with Holiday in Dixieland, a black vaudeville troupe featuring his father and helmed by his de facto uncle, Will Mastin. Dubbed "Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget," he proved phenomenally popular with audiences and the act was soon renamed Will Mastin's Gang Featuring Little Sammy. At the age of seven, Davis made his film debut in the legendary musical short Rufus Jones for President, and later received tap dancing lessons courtesy of the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. In 1941, the Mastin Gang opened for Tommy Dorsey at Detroit's Michigan Theater. There Davis first met Dorsey vocalist Frank Sinatra, what was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
In 1943, Davis joined the U.S. Army, where he endured a constant battle with racism. Upon his return from duty, the group was renamed the Will Mastin Trio. Three years later, they opened for Mickey Rooney, who encouraged Davis to begin including his many impersonations in the trio's act. Where previously they had exclusively performed music, the addition of comedy brought new life to the group, and by the beginning of the next decade, they were headlining venues including New York's Capitol Club and Ciro's in Hollywood. In 1952, at the invitation of Sinatra, they also played the newly integrated Copacabana. In 1954, Davis signed to Decca, topping the charts with his debut LP, Starring Sammy Davis Jr. That same year he lost his left eye in a much-publicized auto accident, but upon returning to the stage in early 1955 was greeted with even greater enthusiasm than before on the strength of a series of hit singles including "Something's Gotta Give," "Love Me or Leave Me," and "That Old Black Magic." A year later, Davis made his Broadway debut in the musical Mr. Wonderful, starring in the show for over 400 performances and launching a hit with the song "Too Close for Comfort."