As the media frenzy wanes following his untimely demise, pundits continue to exalt Michael Jackson, ad nauseam, as “the greatest entertainer” of all time. In fact, Jackson may have been the most popular entertainer of all time, but to call him the “greatest” is a stretch.

Jackson was a mesmerizing song and dance act, who relied on back-up dancers and singers to enhance his performance, not to mention sound equipment that wasn’t yet invented in days of yore. Beyond that, Jackson did little else. He was one-dimensional. He didn’t act, he didn’t impersonate, he didn’t have a wide vocal range, nor could he classically dance beyond his own unique style. Had an unknown Michael Jackson auditioned as a bare solo in the initial phase for today’s American Idol show — minus instruments, dancers, chorus or sound machines — I doubt he would have made it to the next round.

Young folks unfamiliar with the entertainment industry beyond the years of Madonna should be forgiven, for they simply don’t have a frame of reference for “all-time.” Show business has been around for eons during which we have seen many who could be tagged “the greatest” in terms of raw talent and spellbinding entertainment.

Vaudeville gave us Bob Hope, Berle, Ray Bolger and Rudy Vallee. Later came Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra and Carol Burnett all of whom could do just about anything, and do it better than well. Liza Minnelli’s one-woman show was unparalleled by anyone. And, of course, there was Elvis.

But one man stands alone like no other. He was not only great, he was multi-dimensional, bursting with raw talent in a myriad of genre in which Michael Jackson — and most others — could not come close. Another great performer once knelt on hands and knees before an packed audience to kiss his feet.

This entertainment giant overcame discrimination during the heights of segregation. He could not sleep in a hotel with white people, nor eat at their tables, nor walk in the front door of the very night clubs he was performing in. Yet the show went on. He fought against the Las Vegas and other establishments for black’s rights. He was a remarkable impressionist. He was an accomplished actor, appearing in thirty-six movies, one of which he sang the memorable Gershwin song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from in Porgy And Bess.He also starred with the original “rat pack” in the 1960s. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his Broadway performance in Golden Boy. He sang with a wide vocal range and a variety of style, including blues, jazz, popular and Broadway songs, selling multi-millions of records — via 48 albums – in a genre that was not considered his best forte.

That was reserved for his sheer power as a stage performer, singing and dancing with moves that Michael Jackson later emulated, including the earlier version of the now-popular “moon walk.” The hat, the legs, the poses, the leanings, the spins, the look…they were all his long before Michael Jackson was but a notion in his father’s mind. His tap dancing routines have been used on teaching films for young dancers. More than anything, his connection with an audience was personal, loving, intimate and caring. He reached out and touched, not from afar but up close and personal. He looked people directly in the eyes, though he only had one of his own.

Besides his on-stage accomplishments, he served his country in the U.S. Army during WW II. He wrote a book. He was politically active, respected and adored by both sides of the aisle. He was the first African-American to be invited to sleep in the White House. (by Richard Nixon) He actively fought on behalf of the civil rights movement. His only public controversy brewed from marrying a white woman in 1960, considered risque in those days. The list goes on.

Controversy? We’ll not even mention Jackson’s issues of questionable behavior, his crisis with racial identity, his known payoffs of hush money to accusers of sexual misconduct, not to mention criminal charges for which he was acquitted. That is another story by itself.

Yes, this little man was a true giant of a human being, on and off the stage. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to span the eons of stage, screen, radio and music, there can be no comparison in terms of sheer diversity of talent. That was graphically personified during a 1990 televised tribute, when one of show businesses most eminent stage performers, Gregory Hines, dropped to his knees and gave professional homage to “the greatest,” of all time – Sammy Davis Jr.

Sorry, all you young folks, that you didn’t have an opportunity to see how greatness is truly defined.

Set aside a few minutes, and enjoy a few tidbits:

For a sample of his impersonations

Click here: YouTube – Sammy Davis Jr. – Impressions

In the first 6 minutes of the next video, Davis shows his tap dance skills, then he sings Old Man River.

Click here: YouTube – Sammy Davis Jr.- Tap Dancing,Singing,

Davis doing Bojangles:

Click here: YouTube – Sammy Davis Jnr “Mr Bojangles”

Can you even imagine Michael Jackson ever being roasted:

Click here: YouTube – Sammy Davis Jr. gets roasted

Google YouTube for Sammy Davis Jr., there’s much more.

It’ll be a long time before we see the likes of him again.













  1. Frank Piloto July 20, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    Well Marshall, I really don’t have much to say in this one. I do not believe in categorizing anyone, no matter who, as the greates entertainer, singer, dancer, etc of all times. I say this because, in their own very individual ways, there are many who are the greatest of all.

    There is no way that one can say, for example only, that, Frank Sinatra was the greatest singer of all times. Why?

    How can we compare Sinatra to Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti, Iglesias, and others?

    How can we compare Fred Astaire’s dancing to that of Nureyev’s?

    How can we compare Michael Jackson stage performance to Tina Turner?

    Each genre has its own master and I think that is the way it should be. I remember years ago, paid some good bucks to see Liza Minelli, Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra in concerte, the three of them together. Yes, they performed one or two songs and dances together but, the core of the show was their own individual rendition of their individual hits. Eventually, they all have their own comfort space.

    Perhaps another example that is very very close to this is, comparing John Tesh and Yanni. I have no clue who copied who but they each strive to outdo the other while performing almost identical styles of music and shows.

    Remember the late 60’s and mid 70’s prior to disco? So many different sounds, like Chicago, Bob Dylan, Superemes, 4 Tops, Temptations, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and hundreds of others. Who was the greatest?

    I think they all were. The question should be, who was the most sucessful? That is where Michael Jackson may be above many and many above him, depending on the statistics of their sales and popularity surveys.

    So, Marshall, for me, they were all the greatest act ever.

  2. Ellen July 20, 2009 at 11:28 am #

    I liked some of his music and thought he was a cute and talented as a child, but far from one of the best.

    Try this site for some GREAT talent


  3. Helen Bennett July 20, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    I certainly agree with you this time! It may not necessarily be Sammy Davis, Jr,. but zillions of entertainers had more talent than Michael Jackson. Sinatra could sing (obviously!), dance like Gene Kelly, and win an Academy Award for acting. Many more great talents graced the first half of the 20th century, all of them better than the sometimes degenerate performances of Michael Jackson.

  4. David R. Ward July 20, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    Hey Marshall,

    I am attachoing a letter from a soldier that sums it up for me.


    I was just watching the news, and I caught part of a report on Michael
    Jackson . As we all know, Jackson died the other day. He was an
    entertainer who performed for decades. He made millions, he spent
    millions, and he did a lot of things that make him a villain to many
    people. I understand that his death would affect a lot of people, and
    I respect those people who mourn his death, but that isn’t the point
    of my rant.

    Why is it that when ONE man dies, the whole of America loses their
    minds with grief. When a man dies whose only contribution to the
    country was to ENTERTAIN people, the American people find the need to
    flock to a memorial in Hollywood , and even Congress sees the need to
    hold a “moment of silence” for his passing?

    Am I missing something here? ONE man dies, and all of a sudden he’s a
    freaking martyr because he entertained us for a few decades? What
    about all those SOLDIERS who have died to give us freedom? All those
    Soldiers who, knowing that they would be asked to fight in a war,
    still raised their hands and swore to defend the Constitution and the
    United States of America . Where is there moment of silence? Where
    are the people flocking to their graves or memorials and mourning over
    them because they made the ultimate sacrifice? Why is it when a
    Soldier dies, there are more people saying “good riddance,” and “thank
    God for IEDs?” When did this country become so calloused to the
    sacrifice of GOOD MEN and WOMEN, that they can arbitrarily blow off
    their deaths, and instead, throw themselves into mourning for a “Pop

    I think that if they are going to hold a moment of silence IN CONGRESS
    for Michael Jackson, they need to hold a moment of silence for every
    service member killed in Iraq and Afghanistan . They need to PUBLICLY
    recognize every life that has been lost so that the American people
    can live their callous little lives in the luxury and freedom that WE,
    those that are living and those that have gone on, have provided for
    them. But, wait, that would take too much time, because there have
    been so many willing to make that sacrifice. After all, we will never
    make millions of dollars. We will never star in movies, or write hit
    songs that the world will listen too. We only shed our blood, sweat
    and tears so that people can enjoy what they have.

    Sorry if I have offended, but I needed to say it. Feel free to pass
    this along if you want.

    Remember these five words the next time you think of someone who is
    serving in the military;
    “So that others may live…”


    Only two people have ever effectively given their lives for you.

    Jesus Christ and The American G.I.

    One died for your sins, the other died to give you freedom.

  5. Carl Manzelli July 20, 2009 at 12:08 pm #

    Marshall Franks,

    I could not agree with you more. You are so correct. But it’s a different world today and even my own kids cannot relate to what was once great entertainment and what we call “entertainment” today.

    Truth is, MJ was a second thought until his self-caused death last month. He was a mess and even his own family shunned him. He was a gifted singer and performer whose legacy will be over-shadowed by the “weirdness” and controversy surrounding him. Don’t you agree?

    Wife Patty Palumbo Manzelli speaks of you often and sends her very best regards.

  6. Sue July 20, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    I agree with many things you’ve said. I enjoyed Michael Jackson more when he was a kid. He has had some very successful songs. However, I wouldn’t be one to judge if he was guilty or not of the charges against him, as it’s not for me to judge. I also can identify with his desperation to sleep and know first hand the wonderful sleep you can get from dipravan. Although I’d never have it administered to me without being in an operating room. I don’t think people who get restful sleep understand the pain of those of us who don’t. I agree Michael wasn’t the best of all time. But, today there seems to be so much in the way of special affects that we don’t really know if the enteratiner has talent. And, many entertainers can’t really sing because the music drowns out their voices. Look at Jessica Simpson. She tried to sing country and she’ll never make it in that genre’ because she doesn’t have a good strong singing voice. I guess that’s why I like older music so you can hear the voice and understand the words. Sammy was a little before my time. But, I do recall him on Archie Bunker when he kissed him. That was the funniest thing I have seen. And, when you look at the roast they gave Sammy you can see the simpler time when a white man could make a black joke. Now, you have to be politically correct and only blacks can make jokes about blacks. It was a simpler time…don’t know if it was better or worse. But, singers really sang and there were no fireworks, just a singer and their voice. I still think as far as magnatism, Elvis is still the KING!

  7. Tina (Lil Sis) July 20, 2009 at 12:49 pm #

    I loved your article and totally agree with the letter from Isaac.

  8. Jerry Reichardt July 20, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    To me he was a “strange ranger”. He hadn’t had a hit record in 18 yrs and he could not act. If it wasn’t for so many 24 hour news channels I don’t think his death would have gotten so much air time.

    I think David could add law enforcement officers & fire fighters to his short list.

  9. marvin July 20, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    marv wiley/

    Thank you sir. I had the opprotunity to see Sammy Davis do the Mr. Bo Jangles and I felt as though I had been entertained by someone who blieved in his work and was good at. I can only compare to Hal Holbrook doing Kark Twain, again I felt the man’s energy, sencerity and capability to apply his craft. Please know that Jackson let it be known that Sammy Davis was one of his “idols”; that cursed word again.

    Let there be no doubt that I would like to remained grounded and see televised every coffin that comes through Dover; they deserve it. Because of their efforts I/we are able to argue/discuss the points of simple entertaainment; briefly what you or I like.

    No those who would vote Jackson the greatest of all time miss the mark by a large margin. But Jackson is their time, thier choice they voted and bought his paraphenalia. I have none, but I enjoyed whatever TV appeareances that I saw, and I would have continued looking, from the TV, for what will he do next. Was he dancing? It’s your vote and one will vote according to their exposure. The “jitterbug”, just a few years ahead of me but I don’t personally feel that most of it was superb athletics. Thats my call. Superb atheletics. So I asked the rhetorical, how do you see the jitterbug. Jackson is of his time and place, he did not buy his own material that was for sale. The market was there and they responded. There were numerous charity benefits; I don’t have a need to count the number or the amount of money that was give. Yes, lets keep our priorities straight…I think every coffin should be televised and every name called during the evening news when appropriate. As you know, someone higher than I, more power, paper, ink and political clout called that shot. I honor my dead and take appreciated leave of what they have suffered to allow me that entertainment from my “tilt back” chair with remote in hand.

    If I had to cast a vote for one Marshall it would be Sammy Davis. Thanks for the links that are included and did you know he was once rated at the fastest quick draw with a colt six shooter in the world. I think you did a good job in introducing him to the mix. See…wer’re all not that differnce and I think the common denominator is that we sharred time view him perform during our time. I do own some Sammy Davis stuff. You rocked the house, in my opinion with, introducing Sammy Davis to the arena;He could hold you for four hours and not repeat a note or a move.

    I sneaked in to seem him and others who left Miami Beach after playing Foutainbleu and to be with his mother as she could view him from the hotel, vist the vibrant CND,central Negro district, of Miami to perform free and be free.

    Are you ready for some football????????

  10. marvin July 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    I hate coming back in to the program again after such a long view but for you and I Jackson did do a Bojangles in salute of Bojangles of cousre but he dpouble hooked attempting to do it like Sammy did. Imatation the best form of appreciation.

  11. Jim Touchton July 20, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    I have to agree with your thoughts about entertainers and those of Frank Piloto. However the letter in David Wards comments says a lot about the state of mind a whole lot of American people. They ignore the sacrifice that thousands of American young people have made so that we can make fools of ourselves over the death of one individual of questionable character.

  12. Ed Hensley July 20, 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    M.F., – Bob Hope get’s my vote, for the greatest entertainer of all time, wtih no one else even close. I would tend to consider Sammy Davis, Jr. 2nd to Bob.

    But, think of how many millions of young folks that Sammy taught smoking was cool,
    then died young (64) himself, of throat cancer. Yea, I know I have no right to
    throw rocks, with just 8 years nicotine free myself, at 70. But, ya get my drift.

    OK, in fairness to Sammy, Chesterfields were mild & Dr. reccomended. Folks, like my Dad, walked a mile for a camel, and I think John Wayne was the Maroboro Man, all on TV in the late 50’s, early 60’s.

    Well, Dad made it to 74, when lung cancer treatment since 71, & a 2nd heart attack took him out. Now my big Bro. Lee, he
    rode that Maroboro Pony, into lung cancer
    and died at 66, in August 2003.

    I guess this belongs an in earlier blog,
    but watching Sammy sing, dance & blow smoke
    in those youtubes above did throw me back.

    As for Little M.J., I would vote for him
    as the greatest freak show of all times.

    It is a small world though. A short walk
    down Figueora St., from Staples Center,
    where M.J. was memorialized at a $4 Mil.
    cost to us LA Taxpayers, is the Gand Old
    Bob Hope Patriotic Hall. Check it out:


  13. Ray Tersigni July 20, 2009 at 1:59 pm #

    I remember that Colonel Ed Mc Mahon a decorated fighter pilot & Farah Fawcett a true warrior in the fight against cancer died that week also…there was NO mention of them in a moment of silence….we keep forgetting people are mourning Jackson a wealthy and broke weirdo child molester (like his father)who beat the rap…Congress should have a moment of silence for themselves as their minds died a long time ago and they will not be missed !!!

  14. Bill Solen July 20, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    I agree with Ed H., in that Bob Hope gets my vote as the “Greatest”. Sammy Davis was an expert when it came to overall entertainment and talent and I always enjoyed watching him but Bob Hope did it all and was the funniest of the bunch. However, I believe that entertainers are way over rated as icons in our society. Thousands of hours of prime time news coverage is given to entertainers from who’s dating whom to what they ate for lunch. Who really gives a crap, not me. I had oatmeal and rye toast for breakfast today but it wasn’t on the news. Just in case you are interested.

  15. Pat Wilson July 20, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    “The greatest of all time” depends on the age, the experience and the interest area of the viewer. The title, “The King” was given to Elvis, who was probably thought to be the greatest of all time when he died. For this generation it is M.J. I detest the word “freak” used to denigate any individual. His work entertained millions of people, who watched his foot work and body language, NOT what he was doing to his skin. I believe in the old expression,”Do not judge a man until you have walked a month in his shoes”.

    About Sammy, I’m with you, Marshall. Yes, Gene Kelly, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland and many others will be remembered for years by those who experienced their work, but in multi-talent, I think noone has outdone Sammy. (Ray Bolger may have come close) He not only entertained wonderfully everyone who saw him, but he used his humor to “break the glass ceiling” for black entertainers. I could watch him for hours, and I could not say that about MJ or Elvis.

  16. Jack Milavic July 20, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

    Captain Kangroo, MIchael Jackson?? Not much difference.

    Jack Milavic

  17. Les July 20, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    Right on, Marshall. When Michael was little, he was cute and you could understand him. The older (and stranger) he got, the less I could actually tell you what he was singing. Sammy David Jr. knew jazz, he could croon, he could make you laugh and cry at the same time. He was outstanding as an actor. And he was never hauled up on ethics charges. Michael lived in a fantasy world and tried so hard to be white (and female) that even HE didn’t know who he was.

  18. Terry July 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm #

    I’m rather with Frank Piloto on this.

    And really, who is the so-called greatest?

    And why do we have the need to choose between talented people?

    Are we some sort of gods?

    The talents of many contribute to, and enrich our lives.

  19. JK July 20, 2009 at 9:41 pm #

    Saw SD Jr. on Broadway in “Golden Boy” and Anthony Newley in “Stop the World, I want to get off” the next night. SD Jr. was great, Newley was okay.

    Hope might have been the greatest entertainer. His movies, shows and contribution to our armed services personnel are unmatched.

    A recent radio commentator said the Jackson was great, but the test will be in what is remembered about his works many years from now. The songs and music that are remembered the most over time are generally those that involve positive and romantic lyrics, or tunes that become classics such as “Take Five”.

    I doubt that Jackson’s will stand over time.

  20. Jan Siren July 21, 2009 at 7:56 am #

    Marshall, saying up front that I consider Michael Jackson very talented, I do agree with you that Sammy Davis Jr. had no peer in entertainment and was much more widely able than Jackson. A good role model for the latter.

    Frank Piloto had some very good comments also but I have to disagree, mildly, with his quandary about who is “the best.” Sometimes, the question does have an answer, if a fleeting one. Case in point: when Michael Flatley produced and starred in the stage show “Lord of the Dance,” and created a video of it, the question “Who is the greatest dancer in the world?” at that moment, did have an answer…


  21. Ron Pearce July 21, 2009 at 10:37 am #

    David Ward’s comments say it all as far as I am concerned.
    To each his own. There are a lot of “great” people out there that impacted many people’s lives. All Michael Jackson did was sing, if you want to call it that. He put on a good show, but as someone said without all the props and electronic help, was he really that great. As others said, what other things did he contribute to the entertainment industry. He was not multi-talented as far as I am concerned. As a matter of fact I think it is kinda sad that society put someone like him on such a pedestal and that people look up to him as a roll model. His private life was certainly not one we want our children to strive for.

    Just my .02

  22. Sheila Lozowick July 21, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    I agree with you Marshall that Sammy was the best in our time. I always ran to see him perform & was in awe at how he could hold the audiance attention for hours & never wanted him to leave the stage. I also took my kids to see MJ perform & I must admit he was a terrific entertainer. He was happiest when on stage. Miss you & Suzane

  23. Mary July 21, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    I totally agree with Bill Solen’s comments, particularly with regards to media reports of celebrity minutiae. But I do want him to know that I, for one, was very interested to hear what he had for breakfast today. I myself had two bowls of Post Selects Cranberry Almond Crunch cereal. Although my breakfast wasn’t reported in the news either, we can take heart that both of us can post such drivel on twitter and people will actually read it!

  24. jack leary July 21, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    Pepsi Cola tast great

  25. Pamela Jarvis July 21, 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    I had oatmeal with organic cherries and pecans and coffee with sweet and low & lots of cream. I also saw Sammy (way back when) in Miami. That night, performing at the Fontainbleau Hotel, he would start to sing a song, then stop in the middle of it and smoke and talk. I think he was just tired of it all. As for Michael…..he was great to so many, that you can’t blame them for being sad about his death, and his tragic life. P. S. If anyone wants to see a great movie, catch “Whatever Works”. Woody Allen’s greatest film to date.

  26. Lew Garnett July 23, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

    Reading your teaser lines, I thought of him immediately. I could not agree more.

  27. John O'Neill July 23, 2009 at 11:45 pm #

    I read the new book “Deconstructing Sammy” and didn’t know Sammy died 15 million in debt, his wife lived in poverty, and to this day Sammy’s name suffers because of the debts. Book isn’t so much a biography but a true story of an investigation of Sammy’s life after he died. Marshall, as an ex cop, you’d love it. Tragic story.

  28. Nick July 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    He surely was different…

  29. Laura August 2, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    Regarding Michael Jackson…..yes, it’s true, maybe he wasn’t “the greatest”, but to many folks my age, we grew up with him, and his music was the background of our lives. I can’t help it, I loved the guy. I notice that so many media and other people focus on his alledged child abuse and such, but only one God should be the judge of this when he meets his maker. I also notice no mention of the MILLIONS that he gave away to various charities…to sum it up, I guess to folks who are in their 40’s, he was the best entertainer we had ever seen.

  30. vincent osawe April 29, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    michael jackson is the greatest entertainer ever.he is the first artist to break racial barriers.Not Only because he was the first black artist on mtv,but he was the first to create the music that people of all race,religion,and culture.Michael was born to dance and sing he did not have to copy anybody to be famous.Many of you people need to grow up and respect the talent taht he was born to have.ALL OF YOU KNOW THAT MICHAEL JACKSON HAS BEEN THE BEST FROM DAY ONE.Every artist of today are inspired by him.MANY ARTIST SUCH AS ELVIS,JOHN LENNON,OR JIMI HENDRIX HAD THE TALENT TO TOUCH CERTAIN PEOPLE IN THE WORLD,BUT MICHAEL HAD TALENT THAT TOUCH PEOPLE ALL OVER THE UNIVERSE.when he sung ”who’s loving you” as a child everyone prefer him over smokie robinson.His 1983’s moonwalk made the whole world explore.Michael jackson is the pioneer of music.He will always be remembered as the greatest entertainer of all time and everyone haves to accept it whether they want to or not.

  31. Shannon Guzman November 18, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    Hello, Everyone!
    Wow, I was looking up Michael Jackson statistics and came across this page. Gone is the project idea as I read this thread. First and foremost, let me state, that I am a Michael Jackson fan. I am forty years old and I became a fan at the shy age of 13, when “Thriller” hit the stands. I have loved him through all of these passing years and MICHAEL JACKSON’S death greatly and negatively impacted my life!! I cried for days after the news came out, I still cry at vulnerable times. If you were like me, you’d understand my grief. MJ DESERVES to be mourned over, missed, loved, respected and everything else. He gave to ALL of us, just like our American soldiers! He is the ultimate example of a good, American citizen and he deserves respect. The humanitarian gift he had TOUCHED the world!! Yes, soldiers deserve respect and love and honor, too. MJ is in his own league and he is someone who changed the world for the BETTER!!! He was not out there to hurt people, oh no, he brought more joy and love to people’s lives. Before you judge – know your facts. Beyond the ENTERTAINER look at the human heart. He stood for kindness and giving and hurt and understanding. He was rich and was humble. He had millions and gave away more than he even had. He cared for the sick and the dying. He cared for all of his fans. He cried tears just as you and I do and he left this world HATED!!! His death made more fans for him, but, I am not in that category bc I loved him through all his heartaches, joy, and trials. That is what LVOE does for another person: supports, uplifts, prays, and understands. I miss him more than any of you will ever understand. You will never know the positive impact this man had on my life. The racial barriers this man knocked down is amazing! The love he brought to the world was accepted by some and hated by others. I’d hate to be the hater! I know that MJ is in Heaven and that God is giving him a perfect life full of perfect peace and love – what he always desired and now he gets. Well deserved MJ!! I love you, more.