The Godfather of “Yes We Can”

Yes I CanYes I CanThe autobiography of Sammy Davis Jr., entitled Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr.Yes I Can 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.

Sammy Davis Jr & Richard Nixon in the Oval Office

Sammy Davis Jr & Richard Nixon in the Oval Office

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?

See Also:
Biography of Sammy Davis Jr. (The Kennedy Center)
Biography of Stevie Wonder (The Kennedy Center)


One thought on “The Godfather of “Yes We Can”

  1. Im thrilled for Sammy Davis Jr, but he said, “Yes, I Can.” The driving force for Obama’s youth movement was the power of the collective voice. It’s all about the “We”. On June 1, 2004 I suggested “We Can” as the Winning Slogan to the DNC. I had the ear of John Kerry and the trust of John Edwards. We shocked the world and challenged a war President on his strongest theme. The facts are the facts and diluting them with Cesear Chavez, Sammy Davis Jr, Howard Dean, or the Gov of Mass doesn’t change what I did. I had the Democratic Party doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do. We almost won in 2000. We lost Sen. Wellstone in the 2002 cycle. We almost won again in 2004. In 2006 we won all across America. In 2008, we proved “We Can.” There is no “I” in Team. I love Sammy, but he had nothing to do with this reality. I did play his song on my radio show. The key to winning was also getting Oprah to become political and getting the Young Democrats involved. They supported a simple message that changed without changing. We Can and we did. I offered these words and a whole lot more. David Plouffe is getting credit, but the truth is what it is…traceable.

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