Soul Train Awards: A Look Back At Whitney Houston’s 1994 Speech Honoring Sammy Davis Jr.

“The doors once closed, but now slightly ajar, are his legacy.”

The Sammy Davis Jr. ‘Entertainer of the Year’ Award has long honored our best and brightest in the fields of Black music and film. The Soul Train award has gone to the likes of Michael Jackson, Arsenio Hall, En Vogue, Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, and Boyz II Men—all men and women who have excelled in the art of performance. 

Whitney Houston, a pop icon who transcended generations of music lovers with her work in soul, gospel and R&B, joined the ranks when she was fêted the same award in 1994. Yet her speech was unlike most others, in that the late singer and actress expounded on the spirit of the man the honor was named after, instead of offering a passing nod.

“This award is named for Sammy Davis Jr., a man who grew up and succeeded during a time when African-American entertainers could go through the back door to perform in a nightclub, but African-American customers could not go through the front door of the same club to see the performance,” she opened, recalling Davis’ life during the Civil Rights era. “He not only endured the humiliation of discrimination, he endured the insults aimed at him by his own people who blamed him for trying to rise above the ignorance and hatred, not with rhetoric but through his work.” 

She continued: “Many of us that have never experienced the racism and discrimination that were a part of Mr. Davis’ life think of him as yesterday’s news. But Sammy Davis Jr. was a giant. He was big enough and strong enough to give us all who have come after him a lift up on his shoulders. The doors once closed, but now slightly ajar, are his legacy. I am awed by his talent and proud of his strength. I am grateful for Sammy Davis’ life and I am humbled by this award.”

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.