Davis, Pride & ‘Me’

(Photo source: PBS ‘American Masters’)

Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me.

Charley Pride: I’m Just Me.

“Me.” “Me.” The titles alone of this week’s two American Masters documentaries throw the spotlight onto black identity.

Sammy Davis Jr and Charley Pride both broke racial barriers during their careers, but in totally different entertainment realms. In the words of Davis’ Rat Pack pal Frank Sinatra, they both could say, “I did it my way.”

Davis, who died at 64 years old in 1990, was a multifaceted entertainer born into a showbiz career that lasted from the depression through the achievements of the Civil Rights era. Along the way, Davis had to overcome the bigotry of white America – and the distaste of black America (for such actions as his embrace of Richard Nixon). He also converted to Judaism, tying his identity to another embattled minority.

Pride, still going strong at age 84, began life as a sharecropper’s son in a segregated Mississippi town, later played in baseball’s Negro Leagues, and arrived eventually in racially tense Nashville in 1963 – to become a country singer. The lone black in a sea of white, he would rise to become a country music superstar.

We don’t think Davis and Pride ever appeared together during their careers, but they’ll be linked this week, thanks to American Masters.

Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me premieres tonight at 9 pm ET and Charley Pride: I’m Just Me on Friday at the same time on PBS stations (but check local listings for days/times in your area). You’ll also be able to stream both shows starting the day after their premieres at pbs.org/americanmasters or via PBS apps.

The two-hour Davis special, including 20 minutes of post-show performance footage, features interviews with Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak.

The one-hour Pride documentary includes interviews with Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson and Pride himself. It’s narrated by Tanya Tucker.

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About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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