After being a Las Vegas headliner for 10 years and portraying Sammy Davis Jr. in the "The Rat Pack Show" on the Las Vegas Strip for the past six years, Nicholas Brooks on Saturday will return to where it all began – Batavia.
Brooks, a Batavia native and 2002 Northern Illinois University graduate, will perform in the "Vegas In The Valley" homecoming concert at 7:30 p.m. at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre on the Batavia High School campus, 1201 Main St.
The show is a two-act show of Brooks as Sammy Davis Jr. and of himself. Tickets are available at www.bataviafineartscentre.org, or by calling 630-937-8930.
Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Brooks about his career, and how it began.
Eric Schelkopf: Would you say that everything started in Batavia?
Nicholas Brooks: Yes, without a doubt. Two things really were the most pivotal points in my life as a singer.
I learned to sing at Logan Street Baptist Church in Batavia. That's where I sang almost every Sunday.
And being part of the Batavia High School Swing SIngers taught me how to be a real performer. That's where I learned to love the stage.
I learned for myself that this was something I had to do for the rest of my life.
ES: Did you grow up watching Sammy Davis Jr.?
NB: I did. I certainly knew who he was. I knew of him as a pioneer and as an amazing entertainer, and one of the most well-rounded entertainers there has ever been.
He sang, tap danced, he could play almost every instrument and he was an impressionist. He really was just the most well-rounded, versatile entertainer.
ES: Is it hard then filling his shoes, because he did so much?
NB: Yes, yes. I had to study with a choreography extensively. I had to work with a voice trainer to get his -isms as a vocalist.
I had to raise the bar on whoever I was before as an entertainer.
ES: Have people accepted you as Sammy Davis Jr.?
NB: Oh, yes. It's been quite a blessing, the showering of compliments and reviews from Rat Pack-goers all over the world.
And that's been something that's been educational, too. I've been to France and Belgium, and I go to Australia and New Zealand each year. The whole world over, there is an appreciation for Sammy Davis and the Rat Pack.
The most incredible thing has been hearing some of the personal accounts of people remembering Sammy. Being a Las Vegas resident, I've meet many people who knew him.
I've met all kinds of people who had some type of personal encounter with Sammy Davis Jr.
ES: Why do you like portraying Sammy Davis Jr.?
NB: He paved the way, and fought so hard as an African-American entertainer in the very tough '50s and '60s. Things were very segregated and very tough for ethnic performers.
The fight to be an equal was such a tough task. And so I carry some of that with me with such gratitude and thanks to Sammy Davis Jr.
I appreciate his story, and I'm thankful for that fight and struggle, which has allowed an entertainer like me to be successful in Las Vegas today.
ES: So does it really feel like you are part of the Rat Pack when you are doing this show?
NB: Yes. I've always love the Rat Pack music, and I'm a fan of all the Rat Pack members.
The music is so great, the jokes are great, and it was just an interesting and fun time in Las Vegas history. It was just such an amazing moment in time when those guys got together and really set the world on fire.
ES: You have some NIU alumni who are guest instrumentalists in your show. Is it great having them on stage with you?
NB: This concert is really a reunion. It's not just about me, but it's about all of us, not only on the stage, but also in the audience, people who have been a part of my life.
And that's really refreshing, to perform with people who have known you for years. That's a really exciting thing, to be reunited musically on that stage.
ES: You were named Downbeat Magazine's 2002 Vocalist of the Year award. Is it always humbling to receive honors like that?
NB: It really is such a blessing. I feel so honored that somebody would care to notice my works, and appreciate them.