Watch CBS News

Snapshot New York: Sammie C. Davis, "The Drifter," sings for thousands below Madison Square Garden

Former Drifters singer Sammie C. Davis performs for commuters at Penn Station
Former Drifters singer Sammie C. Davis performs for commuters at Penn Station 04:44

NEW YORK - Penn Station has been called the heart of New York City. 

Thousands of commuters flow through every day, and one man is making it his mission to give the heart of New York a heartbeat. 

The greatest artists in the world play at Madison Square Garden, but there's a bigger stage deep below. 

Sammie C. Davis like to say he plays "under the garden." 

"Twenty-five years. A lot of people in the Garden that work there say, 'Man, you sound better than some of the guys that come there,'" Davis said. 

Davis showed CBS New York's Steve Overmyer where under the Garden he sings. It's the sound that carries the weight of years, the rhythm of life and echoes of a different era.

Davis performs to an audience much larger than any at the Garden. 

"You've got 600,000 people coming down here each and every day," Davis said. "If you can get them to stop, you've done something."

He does get them to stop.

"Sometimes they say, 'Damn, you made me miss my train,'" Davis said. 

Davis explained part of why people respond to his music.  

"A lot of people come to me crying, saying, 'You sang songs my father used to listen to, and it reminds me of him.' They come with tears in their eyes and say thank you," Davis said. "I love to sing. I'm an entertainer, so I love to sing.  I started when I was little. I just love it."

Sammie first stepped on stage in the '60s. Over the years, he has lent his voice to a number of groups, including a group that can be found in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Drifters. 

"Back in the days, a lot of the groups used to sing in the subways. That's how they started.  On the corners, then they would go to the subways on the A train, Broadway Junction, and sing because of the echoes," Davis said. "Echo is good because I can hear it and I get a lot of feedback from that."

Over the years, the Drifters have had more than 60 members. While Davis wasn't at the Hall of Fame ceremonies, he was honored by those he impacts most. 

"We would like to proclaim today, and every day, as Sammie's day," one person said. "We love you, Sammie." 

"I started to cry. It gives me more life. You know? That's all I can say. I'm very humbled and gracious," Davis said. 

He was once adorned with the glitz and glam of the stage, but time - as it does - turned the page on this chapter of his life. The lights didn't dim - they just became fluorescent. The song in his heart never waned.

Now he sings not to packed arenas, but to commuters inspired to feed off his energy. He breaks them from their own rhythm and sets them on their way, and they, in turn, give back to him. 

"Well, a successful day for me is when they appreciate me and drop something in that tip box," Davis said. "Every dollar I get is my livelihood." 

Even at the age of 77, he sings with the same passion that once enchanted thousands. His song carries above the clamor of the station with a voice that dances through the air and touches hearts, even if only for a fleeting moment. 

Perhaps that's the most beautiful song of all. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.