Ben Vereen talks new one-man show, says Sammy Davis Jr. needs more recognition

african kings

Broadway legend Ben Vereen is returning to the stage, starring in his acclaimed one-man show, Steppin’ Out, at New York City’s 54 Below supper club.

The 68-year-old actor is best known for playing Chicken George in Roots and for his renowned Tony-winning performance in Bob Fossee’s Pippin.

Steppin’ Out is a tribute to the music of Broadway but pays homage to the legacy of some of Vereen’s greatest musical influences, including Sammy Davis Jr.

“As a child, we used to watch Sammy Davis Jr. on TV, and I never dreamed that I would be in the presence of this man… A man that I’ve idolized all my life was magical, and then for him to take me under his wings and for him to take me to London. For him to stand up for me when the producers didn’t want me in the movies and he said, ‘No the guy works with me.’ He paid me out of his own pocket, because they wouldn’t pay me — this was Sammy. But he did that a lot for everybody; that’s why he died with nothing, because he gave everything away.”

Vereen says he wants too see more tributes to iconic mentor in the way of films, concerts, TV specials etc.

“It’s sad to me to this day that we don’t have enough recognition as much as we have for Frank Sinatra. There is not enough recognition for Sammy Davis Jr. You mention his name, but how many of us are saying ‘wow we gotta do a Sammy show, we gotta see more Sam.’ We gotta hold up this icon, who was one of our first icons. Sammy Davis was the quintessential entertainer performer — the man did everything.”

Vereen is featured in award-winning producer and author Stewart F. Lane’s latest book, Black Broadway: African American on the Great White Way.

Lane uses words and pictures to capture the tumultuous and rocky road that black actors have traveled to reach recognition on the Great White Way.

“When we were in slavery and these white performers saw us in the fields, entertaining us. They said, ‘let’s start a thing, we’ll black up and do them, we’ll call it minstrel shows,’ and then when we saw them doing us, we said we can do us better than they’re doing us, and we entered the American stage,” Vereen recalled. “We were tarred and feathered and ran out of town, we were lynched. And they said ‘if you’re going to be on the stage we don’t want to see your black skin.’ We blacked up, and we gave brilliance such as Burt Williams and other great performers who paved the way for us to be on the stage. Their stories need to be told; they were a part of our American Holocaust of the black people. We need to tell our Holocaust and that it’ll never happen to a people again.”

Steppin’ Out runs at 54 Below from March 17-21. 

Follow’s Entertainment Editor Chris Witherspoon on Twitter @WitherspoonC.