Obba Babatumbé has been wowing and entertaining audiences for nearly 50 years, but he holds one audience member above others: Sammy Davis, Jr.
“Mr. Sammy Davis Jr. was a great influencer, based on the fact that he did everything. He was one of the few Blacks that was on television at the highest levels who did everything, so I patented my style of entertainment around that,” said Babatumbé. “He acted, he sang, he danced, he played musical instruments, so I did all of those things.”
Babatumbé recently guested on Black Hollywood Live’s Inside The Black Actor’s Studio with Danny Royce and shared behind the scenes of his first meeting with Davis, Jr. in 1978. The two were both doing world tours and crossed paths. At the time, Babatumbé was on tour with Liza Manelli.
“She knew I was a fan, and he, there was a knock on my door and she said ‘Obba, uh Sammy’s here and he wants to meet you,’ and like most performers I said, ‘well I would love to meet him but I want him to meet me after he seen me work,'” recalled Babatumbé.
Davis said he couldn’t stay because his gums were hurting him, so the two had a simple introduction.
“Our obligation is always to our audience and I wanna be my best tomorrow but Liza tells me you’re marvelous, and we will get time to spend together as we do this tour,” said Davis, according to Babatumbé.
Then Babatumbé went on stage to perform, but little did he know, Davis stayed and came to find him afterwards.
“Knock on the door. I said, ‘who is it?’ ‘It’s me man. It’s Sam.’ Huh. Ok, I opened the door and there he stood. He looked at me and he says, ‘you, my man, are a bitch on wheels. A bitch on wheels.’ I’m telling you and he came in and he began to give me all kinds of wonderful compliments and praise,” gushed Babatumbé.
But what do you say when someone you idolized gives you praise? Babatumbé know exactly what he wanted to convey. “I said to him, ‘Mr. D I wanna thank you sir for coming in through the kitchen so that I could come in through the front door.’ Tear ran down his face. He hugged me. He said, ‘thank you for that.’ And I said, ‘no no no, I’m sure you hear it enough.’ He said, ‘I could never hear it enough.'”
Babatumbé and Davis went on to form a lasting friendship that lasted until David passed in 1990. Babatumbe still holds close the lessons Davis taught him, including how to be humble as an entertainer and to always take time to meet with the audience.