The autobiography of Sammy Davis Jr., entitled Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr. was released in 1965, four years after the birth of Barack Obama.
On December 8, 1925, Sammy Davis Jr. was born in Harlem into a vaudeville family. His father, Sammy Davis Sr., was a dancer, and his mother, Elvera Sanchez Davis, was a chorus girl.At the age of four, Mr. Davis Jr. first appeared on stage with his father and “Uncle” Will Mastin. In 1933, Sammy Davis Jr. made his movie debut in Rufus Jones for President. He played the part of a little boy who falls asleep in the lap of his mother (Ethel Waters) and has a dream that he is elected President of the United States.
The title of Mr. Davis’ memoirs was effectively co-opted by the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and now by an identity-politics/empowerment movement.
The latest sloganeer is none other than former child-star singer, songwriter, musician Stevie Wonder, who speaks the words “Yes We Can” in a commercial for the upcoming 2009 Grammy Awards television broadcast.
Born in Michigan in 1950 as Steveland Hardaway Judkins, Mr. Wonder became blind as a complication of his premature birth. Signed by Motown records in 1961, the year Barack Obama was born, he made his recording debut as “Little Stevie Wonder” a year later at age 12.
Sammy Davis got it right with “Yes I Can.” The lives and accomplishments of both Messrs. Davis and Wonder are testaments to how a “Yes I Can” attitude helps in overcoming racism, prejudice, misfortune and disabilities. Attitude and focus can lead to enormous success even against tremendous odds. “Yes We Can” falls short when it is put forth as a fluffy, feel-good, self-esteem enhancing mantra. “Yes We Can” do what, exactly?