#17: Don’t Blame The Children by Sammy Davis Jr.

City: Fredericton, NB
Radio Station: CFNB
Peak Month: February 1967
Peak Position in Fredericton: #6
Peak position in Vancouver ~ #41
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #37
YouTube: “Don’t Blame The Children
Lyrics: “Don’t Blame The Children

Samuel “Sammy” George Davis Jr. was born in 1925. At age three, Davis began his career in Vaudeville with his father Sammy Davis Sr. and the Will Mastin Trio. The trio toured nationally, and Davis Jr.’s film career began in 1933. His first film was Rufus Jones for President whose plot concerned an African-American’s run for the presidency in the USA. The candidate is a 7-year-old child named Rufus, played by Sammy Davis Jr. He was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 18 in 1944. After military service, Davis returned to the trio. In 1949, he released his first single titled “Bebop the Beguine”. The next year he released a cover of the 1934 Jimmy Durante hit record “Inka Dinka Doo”. Sammy Davis Jr. 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 1953, Davis was offered his own television show on ABC, Three for the Road—with the Will Mastin Trio. However, the network couldn’t get a sponsor, so they dropped the show. In 1954, at the age of 29, he lost his left eye in a car accident. Several years later, he converted to Judaism, finding commonalities between the oppression experienced by African-American and Jewish communities. That year he covered Rosemary Clooney’s “Hey There”, with his version reaching #16 on the Billboard pop singles chart. In 1955, he appeared as a guest in the TV show What’s My Line? That same year he had a #9 hit on the Billboard Pop chart with “Something’s Gotta Give”, which reached #11 in the UK. That year he saw “Love Me Or Leave Me” reach #12 in the USA and #8 in the UK. While another hit singles in 1955, “That Old Black Magic”, climbed to #13 in the USA.

In 1956, Davis had a starring role on Broadway in Mr. Wonderful. As well in 1956, Sammy Davis Jr. received his first Emmy Award nomination. It was for the Best Specialty Act — Single or Group category for the Sammy Davis Jr. program. In 1957 Sammy Davis Jr. and movie star Kim Novak began dating. A 2017 Smithsonian Institute article described the context. “She was about to film Hitchcock’s Vertigo when she saw Davis perform in a Chicago nightclub. Though they didn’t speak much at the time, Davis wanted to get to know the actress. His friends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh obliged by inviting both of them to a party at their house. Soon afterward, there was a blind item in a gossip column: “Which top female movie star (K.N.) is seriously dating which big-name entertainer (S.D.)?” This bit of idle gossip was far from harmless. An affair between Novak and Davis had the potential to destroy both of their careers. In 1957, interracial marriage was illegal in half the states. Most Americans were against it. A Gallup poll from 1958 showed that only 4 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage.” When the relationship was picked up in more gossip columns, Columbia Pictures head, Harry Cohn, was outraged. “Cohn took out a mob hit on Davis. Gangster Mickey Cohen found Davis’s father and passed on the threat.” Davis Jr.’s chauffeur was there when the phone call was made. “They said they would break both of his legs, put out his other eye, and bury him in a hole if he didn’t marry a black woman right away. He (Sammy Davis Jr.) was scared as hell…”

In January 1958, Sammy Davis Jr. married the Black singer Loray White after offering her a lump sum in excess of $10,000 USD. The newspapers were there to carry the story and snap photos of the happy couple. By September 1958, they filed for divorce which was granted in April 1959.

In 1958, he co-starred with Eartha Kits in the film noir Anna Lucasta. In 1959, Davis Jr. starred alongside Sidney Poitier in a film adaptation of Porgy and Bess.

In 1959, he was invited to join the Rat Pack, along with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. In Las Vegas, Davis Jr. was required (as were all black performers in the 1950s) to lodge in a rooming house on the west side of the city instead of in the hotels as his white colleagues did. No dressing rooms were provided for black performers, and they had to wait outside by the swimming pool between acts. Davis and other black artists could entertain but could not stay at the hotels where they performed, gamble in the casinos, or dine or drink in the hotel restaurants and bars. Canada provided opportunities for performers like Davis unable to break the color barrier in U.S. broadcast television. In 1959 Davis starred in his own TV special, Sammy’s Parade, on the CBC.

In June 1960, Sammy Davis Jr. married Swedish movie star May Britt. There were bomb threats at the theaters where Davis performed in Reno, San Francisco, and Chicago. At the Lotus Club in Washington,  D.C., the American Nazi Party picketed outside, but the audience gave Davis a standing ovation when he walked on stage. In the early Sixties, Sammy Davis Jr. Davis received so many death threats that he hired 24-hour armed guards. He worried his wife would be attacked if they were seen together, so they rarely went out. In 1961, Sammy Davis Jr. was at a meeting with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King was asked by someone in the group, “Martin, where are we at racially?” Davis interjected and said, “I’ll tell you where I am. I’m in the best suite in this hotel, but I can’t walk down the street with my wife.”

Meanwhile in 1960, Sammy Davis Jr. starred alongside Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford in the heist flic Ocean’s 11. He was also given a starring role in the 1960 musical film Pepe. In 1962, Sammy Davis Jr. reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “What Kind Of Fool Am I?”. The record earned Sammy Davis Jr. two Grammy Award nominations: Best Male Solo Vocal Performance and Record of the Year. In 2022 “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” received a Grammy Hall Of Fame award. In 1964, his single “The Shelter of Your Arms” also climbed to #17. While in 1962, Davis Jr.’s duet with Frank Sinatra of “Me And My Shadow” was a Top 20 hit in the UK.

In the next few years, Sammy Davis Jr. appeared in a number of westerns, film noir and the musical Robin and the 7 Hoods. This was with his familiar sidekicks Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and adding Bing Crosby and Peter Falk. In 1965, he sang the opening song behind the spy film credits for Licensed to Kill. In 1966 Sammy Davis Jr. had the lead role as Adam, in A Man Called Adam, a story of a self-destructive jazz musician and the tumultuous relationships in his life. That year he also played the Cheshire Cat in an animated film of Alice in Wonderland.

Sammy Davis Jr. also made guest appearances in a number of TV shows in the early to mid-60s. These included General Electric Theater, 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman, Ben Casey, The Patty Duke Show, Batman, The Wild Wild West and I Dream of Jeannie. 

He returned to the stage in 1964 in a musical adaptation of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy. Davis was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance. The show featured the first interracial kiss on Broadway. In 1966, he had his own TV variety show, titled The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. And that year he was nominated for an Emmy Award for The Swinging World of Sammy Davis Jr. in the category Outstanding Variety Special. The TV special appeared on ABC on February 18, 1965.

In 1967 he released the single “Don’t Blame The Children”.

Don't Blame The Children by Sammy Davis Jr.

“Don’t Blame The Children” was cowritten by H.B. Barnum and Ivan Reeve. Of the two songwriters, it was Barnum who was successful at songwriting. Born in Houston, Texas in 1936, Hidle Brown Barnum won a nationwide talent contest at the age of four. Soon after, he starred in the film Valley of the Sun Marches On. Barnum continued his acting career on TV in the Amos ‘n’ Andy Show, the Jack Benny Show, and others. He made his first solo recording as Pee Wee Barnum in 1950. He then joined the doo-wop groups the Dootones. In late 1955, when Carl Gardner and bass Bobby Nunn left the Robins to form the Coasters for Atlantic, Barnum replaced Bobby Nunn as baritone and bass for the Robins. He also played piano for the group. This version of the Robins recorded for the Whippet label, where Barnum soon became the A&R man. In 1960, under the pseudonym “Dudley” he recorded “El Pizza”, a parody of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”. He had the only hit under his own name, the instrumental “Lost Love” which reached number 35 in the United States on Billboard‘s top singles chart in early 1961.

H.B. Barnum went on to arrange recordings for Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, the Supremes, O.C. Smith, Little Richard, Gladys Knight and others. In 2023, Barnum appeared in the documentary Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll which was broadcast on PBS.

“Don’t Blame The Children” is a song about the problems in the world reflected in the news headlines. And when news commentators complain about the “young generation,” H.B. Barnum writes that it isn’t the children who gave them:
“...too much money to spend, and too much idle time,
Too many movies, the kind of passion and crime.
Too many books, man, that are not even fit to be read,
Too much evil in what they hear said.
And too many children encouraged to roam,
By too many parents who won’t even stay at home.

Barnum continues by making a list of things that the grown-ups are in charge of:

…kids don’t make the movies, and they don’t write the books,
And they don’t go out and paint gay pictures, of gangsters and crooks.
They don’t make the liquor, and they don’t run the bars,
And they don’t make the laws and they don’t buy the cars.
They don’t peddle junk that, well, that addles the brain,
That’s all done by older folks, greedy for gain.”

The problem of delinquent teenagers is one made by “older folks.” The song reminds us the words of Jesus of Nazareth who warned his disciples about casting the first stone.

“Don’t Blame The Children” peaked at #1 in Lansing (MI), Denver, and Augusta (GA), #2 in Honolulu, #4 in La Crosse (WI), Lynchburg (VA), and Phoenix, #5 in Quincy (IL), #6 in Fredericton (NB), and Minneapolis/St. Paul, #7 in Edmonton (AB), Salt Lake City, San Diego, Cincinnati (OH), Billings (MT), and Monterey (CA), #8 in Seattle, and Fort Worth (TX), and #9 in Kansas City (MO), and Des Moines (IA), and #10 in Winston-Salem (NC).

Sammy Davis Jr. was a regular on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, from 1968-70. He was featured in a regular gag – the Here Comes The Judge skit. He also made several appearances on The Mod Squad, and in 1969 was on one episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. In 1969, Sammy Davis Jr.’s “I’ve Gotta Be Me” reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #4 in Toronto.

In 1972, Sammy Davis Jr. had a number-one hit in Hamilton (ON), Toronto and Vancouver with “The Candy Man”. It also topped the Billboard Hot 100, reached #2 in Canada and #3 in Australia. The song earned Davis Jr. a Grammy Award nomination in the Pop Male Vocalist category. In the 1970s, Davis Jr. appeared in more TV shows including All in the Family, Here’s Lucy, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Chico and the Man, The Carol Burnett Show, and Charlie’s Angels. From 1975 to 1977 he hosted his own variety TV show called Sammy & Company. And in 1977 he was given a Golden Globe award in the Best TV Actor — Musical/Comedy for Sammy & Company.

In 1978, Sammy Davis Jr. returned to the stage to perform in a new run of Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. He later acted in a number of films which include Moon Over Parador, That’s Dancing, Broadway Danny Rose, and Cannonball Run.

In the 1980s, Davis Jr. appeared on Archie Bunker’s Place, General Hospital, Hunter, Sanford, The Jeffersons, and Fantasy Island. In 1989, Sammy Davis Jr. was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his appearance in The Cosby Show. In 1990 Sammy Davis Jr.’s 60th Anniversary Celebration earned Sammy Davis Jr. an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy category. The special appeared on February 4, 1990.

In May 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. died at the age of 64 of throat cancer. In 2001, Sammy Davis Jr. received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2008 he was inducted into the International Civil Rights Hall of Fame by the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

January 15, 2024
Ray McGinnis

H.B. Barnum,” soulwalking.co.uk.
Joy Lanzendorfer, “Hollywood Loved Sammy Davis Jr. Until He Dated a White Movie Star,” August 9, 2017.
Billboard Charts Data – Sammy Davis Jr.,” sammydavisjr.info.
Loray White Davis Granted Divorce,” Daily Press, Newport News, VA, April 24, 1959.
Sammy Davis Jr. On Parade, ” CBC, November 15, 2018.
Sammy Davis Jr. mystery guest,” What’s My Line?, CBS, March 13, 1955.
Wil Haygood, In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr., Knopf, 2003.
Carmel Dagan, “Sammy Davis Jr. Kept His Cool in a Less-Tolerant Era,” Variety, December 8, 2015.
Gary Fishgall, Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.Scribner, 2011.
Peter B. Flint, “Sammy Davis Jr. Dies at 64; Top Showman Broke Barriers,” New York Times, May 17, 1990.

Don't Blame The Children by Sammy Davis Jr.

CFNB 550-AM, Fredericton (NB) Year-end Top 100 1967 (songs #50 to #59)

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