Birdland Jazz Club in New York City kicks off its new monthly Tributes concert series July 31 with a salute to the late actor-singer-dancer Sammy Davis Jr., performed by award-winning singer Natalie Douglas.
Douglas, who was featured in Irish Repertory Theatre benefit gala performances of Camelot and Brigadoon at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, will “celebrate the artistry, brilliance and singular achievements of Sammy Davis, Jr.” (1925–1990), the Rat Pack superstar who starred on Broadway in Golden Boy, Mr. Wonderful, and other musicals.
She will perform backed by a seven-piece musical ensemble.
Douglas, who previously appeared at Birdland in a 2016 tribute to Stevie Nicks and Stevie Wonder, is a two-time winner of Backstage Bistro Awards, and an eight-time winner of MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Awards. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall, Café Carlyle, and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room.
It was Douglas’ previous tribute-style concerts that prompted impresario Jim Caruso to approach her earlier this year about starting a monthly in-depth series devoted to the artists who particularly moved her.
Douglas told Playbill, “I talked it over with my husband [Billy Joe Young] who said, ‘What about [soul singer] Nina Simone?’ Well, I just thought that was a brilliant idea.” Douglas had done a show of Simone’s music previously and saw the series as a way of revisiting and going more deeply into her work. “She hit all the things I love. Her life was heartbreaking in places and funny in places. She told an interesting story about our lives as Americans, and about being black in America. It was musical, it was political—everything I love.”
Upcoming in the Tribute series will be
July 31: Sammy Davis Jr.
August 28: Linda Ronstadt
September 25: Nina Simone
October 30: Shirley Bassey
Douglas said that if the series takes off, she hopes to add concerts devoted to the careers of Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Nancy Wilson, and Carla Bonoff.
If there is a thread that ties all these artists together for Douglas, it’s the fact that “all of these people have an affinity for lots of different genres. Look at Linda Ronstadt. She started with folky stuff, and moved on Peter Asher stuff—hard rock, then her albums of standards, her Spanish language songs, [doing Gilbert & Sullivan on Broadway]... really fascinating stuff.”
She said, ”I’m really fascinated by people who stay uniquely themselves when they sing. Sammy Davis can bring something of himself to country music, pop or jazz and make it his own. He makes you hear it in a new way. He honors the truth of the composer, but expands the reach of the tune. We could hear that when we were rehearsing ‘Stick Around,’ a Charles Strouse song from [his Broadway musical] Golden Boy: Sammy did everything.”
Douglas added, “I’m also very political person, so I’m also fascinated by people who are activists. Sammy started in vaudeville in a very different world for black people than what it is today. And it changed partly because of the things he fought for. A lot of these people [in the Tribute series] changed our world.”
Tickets to the 7 PM July 31 concert cost $30 plus a $10 minimum. Click here to order. Birdland is located at 315 West 44th Street in Manhattan.