Singing Sammy

by Arnold Nelson

    Singing Sammy was born in Washington DC in 1925. When he was 5 he began singing at church. At 16 was the youngest member of the adult choir. He sang his first solo that very same year Sweet Little Jesus Boy. That sounds like the perfect child doesn't it?

    Away from church he was anything but perfect. As a young teen he had a paper route. He befriended the super at an apartment house near his home. Sammy would go in there and fold his papers and give the super some money. The super was to buy a bottle of alcohol for himself and one for Sammy. Sammy would drink the bottle,deliver his papers, then go to school. He became an alcoholic.

    When he got older and started driving he wrecked one car after another because of his drinking. Just before his 18th birthday he enlisted in the marines because his brother was a marine. When the war was over he went back to Washington and got his singing career going again. He had a beautiful baritone voice and was much in demand. He was drunk most of the time. He was a called a functional drunk because he could still do whatever he had to do no matter how much he drank.

     In 1948 he married Debby. Debby told him one day: You have a choice either me or your singing career! Sammy gave up his singing and left Washington DC and went to L.A. He owned a Gas Station/ Garage. and later got a job with Rockwell International working on computer programs. He and Debby Raised 5 children and 12 foster children.. He was under the influence most of the time.

    He and Debby loved to go to Laughlin and drink and gamble. Sammy retired at at age 58 to take care of Debby who had heart and lung problems. She could never give up the cigarettes even though they were killing her. In 1995 Debby died. Five years before she died Sammy went to AA with a friend and started his sobriety which still goes on today. Sammy also gave up smoking.

     Sammy was in jeopardy of losing his singing voice because of the abuses. It scared him, the doctors wanted to do surgery he said no. He tried everything he could think of or heard about including weeks of silence and a faith healer. He got his voice back. He started thanking God and praising him. He vowed he would keep singing to God as long as his voice held out. When I first met him in 1999 he was the lead baritone in our church choir and having a great time. He was going with a lady named Jane. Jane introduced me to Sammy. Jane was going in to help the church the secretary during the week folding bulletins among other things. She got Sammy to go with her one day.

    She introduced Sammy to Karen and before long Sammy and Karen started going together. Sammy used to go to the Church several times a week to see Karen. He would sit at the piano and play the few chords he knew and sing until he was tired. I was privileged to hear some of those sessions and I can tell you I was in awe of the way Sammy could sing.

     In 2005 His family and Karen planned a surprise birthday party for Sammy. They invited old friends Sammy had not seen for years as well as most of Bullhead City. Sammy told me later he could not believe they could keep him in the dark that well. Even our church newsletters had an invite to the birthday party. There was special one printed for Sammy without the invite. It was a fun day.

     A few years ago Sammy's oldest daughter died of Cancer. Sammy was devastated but you would not know it to look at him. His strong faith in God kept him going. A year or so after that Sammy and Karen came home from a cruise to find one of his son-in-laws was killed in a motorcycle accident. Again Sammy's great faith got him through it. A few weeks ago he was robbed. they ransacked his house and had taken everything of value. Sammy caught them when he came home unexpectedly. he said they were taking a break eating his ice cream. When Sammy drove up they jumped over the fence and got away. Sammy is taking everything in stride and putting his life back in order. Sammy's faith never wavered.

    One time shortly after I met Sammy I told him how much I loved the song I Believe so one Sunday he surprised me and did it as a solo. I could not believe he did that for me. He was always doing special music.

    About two years ago he retired from the choir telling everyone the voice just isn't there anymore. We were all sad but accepted it. Karen was happy because they could sit together every Sunday in Church. He told me wanted to do one more solo this summer. He wants to do There's Something About That Name. He is afraid his voice will crack. If is does so what, God doesn't care. The church will be glad to hear Sammy stand up and sing one more time, I know I will. Oh,by the way, Sammy is a good poet. He gave me a book of his poetry once. He also gave me a copy of a CD he made for his family so that after he is gone they can still listen to him sing. I love the CD, I play it a lot. This man has been such an inspiration to me. he overcame so much in his life I am just in awe of him and proud to call him my friend.

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