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Govenor James Houston Davis
Jimmie Davis
November 5, 2000
Age 101
Old Age 
 
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Gordon's Pick:  Govenor Jimmie Davis: Louisiana!
 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
 
          "You Are My Sunshine" Singer Jimmie Davis Dead at 101
        
       By Michael Gray / Country.com 
        
       Country Music Hall of Fame member Jimmie Davis, whose 
       signature song, "You Are My Sunshine," is one of the most 
       recognized country songs in the world, died Sunday morning 
       (Nov. 5) at age 101. The two-time governor of Louisiana 
       passed away in his sleep at his home in Baton Rouge, La. 

       Born Sept. 11, 1899, Davis was country music's first 
       centenarian. 

       In January, the singer was admitted to a Baton Rouge hospital after he fell at 
       home. He did not break any bones but did suffer bruises. Davis may have suffered 
       a small stroke close to the time of his fall. 

       Many reliable reference books list James Houston Davis' year of birth as 1902. 
       However, 1899 is now commonly accepted as the correct year. Davis 
       misrepresented his age for many years (probably a move to help win over younger 
       voters in later elections) then, as he got older, he corrected it, making him one of 
       the few people to actually move their birth date back rather than forward. 

       Davis began recording in 1928 and was still recording 70 years later, giving him 
       one of the longest recording careers in entertainment history. Davis also had the 
       distinction of being one of the earliest country singers to record with a racially 
       integrated band. 

       One of 11 children born in Beech Springs, La., to a 
       sharecropping couple, Davis rose to prominence in the 1930s 
       with a smooth vocal style that helped popularize country music 
       far beyond its original rural southern audience. The singer's 
       best-known songs, particularly "You Are My Sunshine," helped 
       carry him to the governorship of Louisiana in 1944 and in 1960. 

                              With its easy-to-follow melody and sweet inspirational 
                              message, "You Are My Sunshine" has been recorded more than 
                              350 times by many top artists. Now a country music anthem 
                              and a children's favorite, the song became nationally known in 
                              1941 through recordings by Gene Autry and Bing Crosby. 

                              Davis' own Decca recording was released in 1940. Prior to his 
                              purchase of the song, "You Are My Sunshine" was credited to 
                              Paul Rice, a member of Louisiana band The Rice Brothers 
                              Gang, but Rice previously may have purchased the copyright 
                              himself. The rumored sale price between Rice and Davis was as 
       low as $15 and as high as $500. The copyright to "You Are My Sunshine" is now 
       perhaps the most valuable in country music. 

       Far from being frowned on, purchasing the original compositions of other local 
       musicians was the accepted practice of the time. There was nothing underhanded 
       about it. Like A.P. Carter and a host of other artists of the era, Davis would rework 
       the original tunes to fit his style of singing and change the lyrics to meet his own 
       needs. Regardless of its origin, "You Are My Sunshine" clearly belonged to Davis -- 
       he is the reason it is one of the most-recognized and most-loved songs in the world. 

       Davis began his singing career in the Glee Club of Louisiana College in Pineville. At 
       the same time he was a member of a local quartet, the Wildcat Four, singing lead 
       tenor. After school, he worked in the fields and busked on street corners until he 
       raised enough money to allow him to study for his master's degree at Louisiana 
       State University in Baton Rouge. There, too, he sang tenor in a quartet. In the late 
       1920s he accepted a teaching position in Shreveport at Dodd College, a Baptist 
       junior college for women, and began performing weekly at Shreveport radio station 
       KWKH. 

       Davis left Dodd after one year and began working as a clerk at the Shreveport 
       Criminal Court, a job that lasted until 1938 and helped usher him into a career in 
       Louisiana politics. 

                              After recording a couple of piano-accompanied records for 
                              KWKH in 1928, Davis made records for RCA Victor Records for 
                              four years, most of them excellent white blues songs 
                              performed in a Jimmie Rodgers style. Some, such as "Organ 
                              Grinder's Blues" and "Tom Cat and Pussy Blues," contained 
                              risque lyrics that political opponents would later use in 
                              unsuccessful efforts to discredit him. 

                              In 1934, Davis began recording for the newly formed Decca 
                              records. His first release on the label, "Nobody's Darling But 
                              Mine," became his first substantial hit. Although a risque 
                              element remained in his repertoire for a while, Davis soon 
       focused on western swing, recording two songs with The Musical Brownies, by then 
       led by Milton Brown's brother, Derwood. 

       In 1938, Davis was made Shreveport's Commissioner of Public Safety and in 1942 
       he was promoted to State Public Service Commissioner. He scored Top 5 country 
       hits in the 1940s with "Is It Too Late Now," "There's a Chill on the Hill Tonight," 
       "Grievin' My Heart Out for You" and "Bang Bang." Davis' biggest chart single was 
       "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder," which topped the charts in 1945 and 
       lingered on them for 18 weeks. 

       Between 1942 and 1947 Davis appeared in five Hollywood films: Strictly in the 
       Groove, Riding Through Nevada, Frontier Fury, Cyclone Prairie Ramblers and his 
       own life story, Louisiana. In 1944, standing as a Democrat, Davis was elected to 
       governor. 

       After his first four-year term, Davis began singing full-time for the first time and 
       began to specialize more in gospel music than in straight country songs. 

       He went back to the governor's mansion for a second four-year term in 1960. 
       School integration was a hot issue in the Deep South in those years and while Davis 
       maintained a segregationist stance, his moderate form of opposition helped 
       Louisiana avoid much of the violence that took place in neighboring states. 

       "Where the Old Red River Flows" gave Davis a Top 20 country hit in 1962 and went 
       on to become yet another very popular and much-recorded song. 

       After the death of his first wife, Alvern, in 1967, he married 
       Anna Carter Gordon, a member of the Chuck Wagon Gang 
       gospel group. 

       In 1971, Davis was unsuccessful in his third bid for the 
       governorship and instead concentrated more on sacred songs. 
       The following year he was elected to the Country Music Hall of 
       Fame. 

       During the 1970s and up to the mid-1980s, Davis continued to 
       make recordings of gospel music and appearances at some 
       religious venues until a heart attack in 1987 caused him to 
       restrict his activities. However, in the spring of 1992 he appeared on CBS-TV's 
       special celebrating the Country Music Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary, and in 1998 
       he recorded a new version of "You Are My Sunshine." 

       Davis celebrated his 100th birthday with a party in Baton Rouge. The celebration 
       was attended by about 800 people at a local hotel, and benefited the Jimmie Davis 
       Tabernacle Fund, a non-denominational, non-profit place of worship located in 
       Beech Springs. Davis performed four songs, proving he could still enthrall an 
       audience. 

       Davis is survived by his wife, Anna Gordon Davis of Baton Rouge; his son, Jim 
       Davis of Newellton, La.; a stepson, Greg Gordon; a stepdaughter, Vicky Gordon; 
       and a granddaughter. 

       Visitation will be from 3-5 p.m. CT Monday (Nov. 6) at Rabenhorst Funeral Home in 
       Baton Rouge. Visitation continues from 5-8 p.m. CT Tuesday (Nov. 7) at Edmonds 
       Funeral Home in Jonesboro, La. A funeral service will take place 2 p.m. CT 
       Wednesday (Nov. 8) at the Jimmie Davis Tabernacle in Beech Springs, La. Burial at 
       the Jimmie Davis Tabernacle Cemetery will follow Wednesday's services.

    
  
 
NY TIMES
        
Jimmie Davis, Louisiana's Singing Governor, Is Dead
                By RICHARD SEVERO 

                Jimmie H. Davis, the troubador and composer of one of 
                America's best-loved songs, "You Are My Sunshine," 
                who yodeled and smiled his way into the hearts of 
                Louisiana voters to serve two terms as their Singing 
                Governor, died yesterday at his home in Baton Rouge, La. 

                Mr. Davis, who also acted in B westerns and taught history 
                and yodeling at a women's college, was believed to be 
                about 101 years old.  

                Various newspaper and magazine articles over the last 70 
                years said he was born in 1899, 1901, 1902 or 1903. He 
                told The New York Times several years ago that his 
                sharecropper parents could never recall just when he was 
                born he was, after all, one of 11 children and that he 
                had not had the slightest idea when it really was. 

                Nonetheless, in Baton Rouge on Sept. 10, 1999, more 
                than 800 Louisianans from across the state's political 
                spectrum decided he was born in 1899 and decided to 
                celebrate. Mr. Davis, by then quite frail and using a 
                wheelchair, his 6-foot-plus frame seeming smaller than 
                anyone could remember it, heard an outpouring of love for 
                his music and praise of his tenure as governor, from which 
                his budget surpluses were more fondly remembered than 
                his various maneuvers to try to block public school 
                integration ordered by the United States Supreme Court. 

                Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards set the tone that day 
                when he told the audience: "Just imagine: He served two 
                terms as governor of Louisiana and was never indicted. 
                That's a genuine achievement." 

                Many in the crowd remembered the day in 1960 when Mr. 
                Davis, wearing a white cowboy hat, rode his horse 
                Sunshine up the steps of the Louisiana Capitol to sing the 
                praises of his legislative agenda. Few people, either 
                integrationist or unreconstructed segregationist, held 
                grudges against Mr. Davis on that day in 1999 for his 
                ineffectual efforts to preserve segregation in Louisiana. 

                "Unlike so many Southern governors, Davis managed the 
                transition so that, however stormy the rhetoric in the 
                state, there was never any violence or closed schools," 
                Kevin Fontenot, a historian at Tulane University, told The 
                Washington Post in 1999. "He has just never been a 
                demagogue or a hater." 

                Not that Mr. Davis was ever totally divorced from the 
                kinds of activities that had earlier marked the storied 
                Statehouse tenures of Huey Long, shot dead in 1935, and 
                his brother, Earl Long, who was committed to a mental 
                hospital. In the 1960's, during his second term as 
                governor, Mr. Davis saw to it that the taxpayers of 
                Louisiana paid for a new Governor's Mansion with 12 
                bedrooms and 18 bathrooms. 

                The Legislature approved the million-dollar mansion after 
                the governor made clear that he would also favor public 
                works projects that might benefit the legislators' districts. 
                In addition, as one legislator told a New York Times 
                reporter, "The governor made it clear that those who 
                didn't go along with him were through." On another 
                occasion, journalists learned that members of the 
                Plainsmen Quartet, who sang with Mr. Davis whenever he 
                hit the campaign trail, turned up in state jobs as "insurance 
                rate supervisor" and "inspector" in the Louisiana 
                Department of Agriculture.  

                On still another occasion, Mr. Davis vetoed right-to-work 
                legislation. This outraged his conservative supporters, who 
                contended that he acted not because he cared about 
                organized labor, but because he wanted to do a favor for 
                James C. Petrillo, then head of the musicians' union, who 
                strongly opposed the legislation. Mr. Davis said there was 
                no truth to the report that Mr. Petrillo had suggested to 
                him that if the veto were not forthcoming, Mr. Davis might 
                not again be able to sing on the radio or in the recording 
                studio.  

                But there were solid accomplishments, too. In his first 
                administration, 1944-48, Governor Davis saw to it that 
                drivers of automobiles were finally licensed. Before that, all 
                anyone had to do to drive in Louisiana was to turn on the 
                ignition. Mr. Davis considered the licensing issue so 
                important that he saw to it that he got the first license 
                issued by the state. 

                His second administration did not begin until the early 
                1960's (he was precluded from immediately succeeding 
                himself in 1948). He kept taxes down, took steps to 
                prevent forests from being too rapidly exploited, built 
                hospitals, repaired and created roads, raised teachers' 
                salaries and set up the state's first civil service system. 

                He also signed into law segregation bills that were basically 
                designed to give local school boards the power to 
                determine which schools would remain open and which 
                would be closed in the face of federal orders to admit black 
                children. In the South in those days, this was all part of the 
                theory of "interposition," which held that the states could 
                interpose themselves between federal law and the people 
                who found that law too much of a burden.  

                But Governor Davis was never regarded as a hard-core 
                racist. He had the reputation for instinctively liking 
                everyone. At the end of the legislative session he would 
                gather friend and foe alike and lead them in singing his hit 
                song "It Makes No Difference Now." 

                A serious public servant, Mr. Davis was equally serious 
                about show business. He found time to play the singing 
                sidekick of the cowboy hero Charles Staret in B westerns 
                in Hollywood, and he showed up with his guitar in Las 
                Vegas to sing "You Are My Sunshine" and his other songs, 
                including "Bed Bug Blues," "Bear- Cat Papa" and 
                "High-Powered Mama."  

                James Houston Davis was born in Quitman, in the red hills 
                of north Louisiana, the son of sharecroppers who were 
                always in desperate financial straits. As many as 14 
                Davises lived in a two-room shack, and they all worked 
                long days in the cotton fields. A friend once asked Jimmie 
                whether his family had an outhouse and he replied, "No, 
                we had outwoods." 

                He said he did not have a bed to sleep in until he was 9. 
                When his younger sister died because the family could not 
                afford medical care, Jimmie helped his father build her 
                coffin out of wood they found. Later in his life he built the 
                Jimmie Davis Tabernacle, a nondenominational chapel, on 
                a highway south of his birthplace. 

                Mr. Davis's father told his children that education was 
                important, that they ought to get as much of it as they 
                could, because if they learned something, it might be a 
                way out of the poverty they all knew so well. 

                Mr. Davis took the advice to heart. After graduating in a 
                class of three from the Beech Springs Consolidated School, 
                he attended high school in Winnfield, Huey Long's 
                hometown, then went to New Orleans to attend a 
                business school. Mr. Davis regarded himself as "a shouting 
                Baptist" and so he entered Louisiana College, a Baptist 
                institution in Pineville, going on to earn a master's degree 
                from Louisiana State University. 

                He taught briefly in a public school, then, in 1927, joined 
                the faculty of Dodd College, a women's college in 
                Shreveport, where he officially taught history and 
                unofficially taught the finer points of yodeling. He feared 
                yodeling was fading in American music, and felt he ought 
                to try to save it.  

                He remained at Dodd a year before taking a job as court 
                clerk in Shreveport, where he remained for most of the 
                1930's, becoming as interested in pursuing a life of public 
                service as he was in his music. 

                Mr. Davis began to write his own songs in the mid-1930's. 
                He could not read or write music, and he had no formal 
                knowledge of chord structure. But he could pick out tunes 
                on the guitar he taught himself to play. A talent scout from 
                RCA Victor Records heard him singing on Shreveport's 
                radio station KWKH and asked him whether he would like 
                to record, then paid his way to Memphis, where he made 
                trial recordings. 

                He attracted attention with songs like "Nobody's Darling 
                But Mine" and "It Makes No Difference Now." Mr. Davis's 
                own renditions sold well, and Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, 
                Guy Lombardo and the Andrews Sisters were attracted to 
                his tunes.  

                In the mid-1930's he married Alverna Adams, a member 
                of an old Shreveport family. Miss Adams was a cultured 
                woman who played classical music on the piano, and she 
                began to help him put his music down on paper. 

                "I try out a song on my wife," Mr. Davis joked, "and if she 
                doesn't like it, I rush right out and record it."  

                While his musical career was growing, he continued to 
                explore the possibilities of public office. In 1938 he became 
                Shreveport's commissioner of public safety, the top job in 
                the city's fire and police departments. He got the job by 
                campaigning for it with his guitar and a small singing group. 

                After he got the job, he never tired of telling schoolchildren 
                not to jaywalk. He would sing them "Roundup Time in 
                Heaven," a song he had written, inspired by his desire not 
                to see them hit by cars.  

                On Feb. 4, 1940, he recorded a song he had only recently 
                completed, called "You Are My Sunshine." It became a big 
                hit. Mr. Davis's recording was immensely popular and so 
                were recordings of the song by Bing Crosby and Gene 
                Autry. King George VI of England heard the song and 
                immediately declared it was his favorite.  

                Over the next 60 years "You Are My Sunshine" was 
                recorded by more than 350 artists. It sold millions of 
                records and was translated into 30 languages. It is easily 
                one of the world's most recognizable songs. Nearly 
                everyone remembers singing: 

                You are my sunshine 

                My only sunshine 

                You make me happy 

                When skies are gray 

                You'll never know, dear, 

                How much I love you 

                Please don't take my sunshine away. 

                In 1942, Mr. Davis became public service commissioner, 
                the same job that Huey Long had once held. Two years 
                later, he decided to run for governor, much to the dismay 
                of the remnants of the Long machine, who were trying to 
                hold on to the power they had accumulated 20 years 
                earlier. During the campaign, if anybody asked Mr. Davis 
                where he stood on a particularly contentious issue, he 
                would sing one of his songs.  

                "It's better in a political campaign to give folks very little 
                talking and a whole lot of songs," he said. 

                When one of his rivals suggested that if elected governor, 
                Mr. Davis would prove fickle and accept an offer to go to 
                Hollywood and make movies, he passed the accusation on 
                to a crowd at a rally and admitted he probably would "up 
                and go" to Hollywood, if he got a serious offer. 

                "So would we, Jimmie!" the crowd roared back, pleading 
                with him to stop the chatter and sing "You Are My 
                Sunshine" one more time. Mr. Davis obliged them. He 
                always referred to singing on the campaign trail as 
                "shucking the corn."  

                He had written a tune called "Honky Tonk Blues," and one 
                of his rivals started calling him "Honky Tonk Jim." Louisiana 
                voters responded by singing the song. In those days, you 
                could hear them singing it all over New Orleans and Baton 
                Rouge. During the 1950's, he continued writing music, 
                some of it inspirational, some of it more earthbound, 
                including "Supper Time," "Honey in the Rock," "Take My 
                Hand," "Shackles and Chains" and "Columbus Stockade 
                Blues." He became interested in the music of Louisiana's 
                Cajun country and was widely known for his rendition of 
                "Colinda." He is credited with writing hundreds of songs 
                and recording several dozen albums. 

                After Mr. Davis's first term, he continued to concentrate on 
                his music and on his business interests in Shreveport. By 
                then, his music had made him rich. He knew a lot about 
                farming and bought 450 acres of good land near 
                Shreveport. He called that farm his insurance policy. "When 
                a man's in the business I'm in, things may blow up 
                overnight," he said. 

                In 1959, he decided to run for governor again but by then, 
                the South was in great pain over the federal initiatives to 
                desegregate. The segregationists backed William Rainach, 
                and the moderates looked to Mayor deLesseps Morrison 
                of New Orleans. When it became clear that Louisiana 
                would not support Mr. Rainach, the segregationists backed 
                Mr. Davis and he became governor again. 

                After his second term, Mr. Davis's admirers were 
                disappointed when in 1968 Gov. John J. McKeithen vetoed 
                a bill that would have made "You Are My Sunshine" 
                Louisiana's official song. The ostensible reason was that 
                the song, although sweet and dear to millions, said not a 
                word about Louisiana.  

                Also in 1968, a year after his wife Alverna died, Mr. Davis 
                married Anna Gordon, another country singer. In addition 
                to his wife, Mr. Davis is survived by a son, James. 

                In 1971, Mr. Davis tried half-heartedly to win a third term 
                as governor, but ran fourth. Six years later the Legislature 
                decreed that "You Are My Sunshine" would share honors 
                as state song with "Give Me Louisiana," by Doralice 
                Fontane, which mentions Louisiana repeatedly. 

                Asked late in life how he wanted to be remembered, Mr. 
                Davis replied, as "someone who scattered a little sunshine 
                along his path." 
       

 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
                        James Houston Davis was born September 11, 1899, in Quitman Louisiana. He grew 
                        up in a two room shack called home by he and his ten siblings, his parents and his 
                        grandparents.  

                             His father had only a third grade education, but was determined his children 
                        would be better educated than he was, instilling a hunger for learning in all of his 
                        children. Jimmie left home to study at Louisiana College. He supplemented the meager 
                        savings he took with him by washing dishes and singing on street corners, eventually 
                        receiving a baccalaureate degree. He went on to LSU where he received a master's 
                        degree. For a while, Jimmie served as a professor of history at Dodd College.  

                             Northeast Louisiana seemed to be a spawning ground for Louisiana's political 
                        leaders providing the state with no less than five govenors and countless senators, 
                        congressmen and many other political leaders. Destined to follow suit, Jimmie almost 
                        simultaneously managed to launch careers in Louisiana politics and country music. In 
                        1928 he took a job as a clerk for Shreveport's Criminal Court. In September of the 
                        following year, the 29 year old civil servant recorded for RCA Victor. Like many artists 
                        of the day, for the four years Jimmie recorded for RCA Victor his records amounted to 
                        little more than imitiations of America's biggest hillbilly star of the same time - Jimmie 
                        Rodgers.  

                             May of 1935 saw his fourth release for Decca, "Nobody's Darling But Mine," his 
                        first major hit. With the resulting royalties, he settled his college debts, bought a farm 
                        and got married.  

                             With the royalties and newfound celebrity status from his next big hit released 
                        in 1936, "It Makes No Difference Now", Davis was in position to advance his political 
                        career yet again. Campaigning with his band in tow in 1938, he was elected 
                        Shreveport's commissioner of public safety, in charge of the city's fire and police 
                        departments.  

                             Two years later in Chicago, on Monday, February 4, 1940, Davis recorded the 
                        song that would become his calling card. Released a month later, "You Are My 
                        Sunshine" sold over a million copies in America. The record later crossed the Atlantic 
to England, where King George VI declared it his favorite song. Covered by Gene Autry and Bing Crosby, this song 
has been recorded by over 350 artists, and translated into over 30 languages including Russian and Japanese.  

     During this period, Jimmie made numerous movie appearances. Yet, 1944 proved to be one of his biggest 
years yet, not only starring in the feature film Louisiana, but, once again with the help of his band during 
campaigning, later that year he was elected to his first four year term as Louisiana's govenor. In a move we 
would now consider as a "conservationist" or "environmentalist," Govenor Davis took action to revive the state's 
timber industry, ravaged in the 1920s and 1930s, by passing the Forestry Act.  

     Today the state grows more timber than it can cut. During his first term, automobile drivers were licensed 
for the first time in Louisiana. When he left office in 1948, there was a comfortable surplus in the state treasury 
which was used by future administrations to fund the state's first old-age pension program - a feat accomplished 
without raising taxes during his administration.  

     In the 1950s, Jimmie returned to his roots in the form of gospel music, and found great favor with hits like 
"Supper Time," "Honey In The Rock," "Take My Hand" and "Columbus Stockade Blues." Jimmie, along with Hank 
Williams and others, is credited with introducing Cajun music to the country music audiences with his redition of 
"Colinda."  

     Jimmie was called upon again to lead his state in 1960 when Louisiana was suffering the worst problems in 
the state's history since Reconstruction: A nationwide recession plunged Louisiana into a deficit; The State was 
targeted by the federal government for the integration of its elementary schools. Financial problems were solved 
when Governor Davis proposed to the Legislature a budget that was actually lower than the one the preceding 
year - never done before, and never done since. The problem of desegregation was solved, as Jimmie had 
promised in his inagural address of 1960, "without prejudice and without violence." Again, these problems were 
solved without raising taxes.  

     In 1972, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  

     Currently residing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at 97 "years young," Jimmie still makes regular concert 
appearances, continues writing songs, and as his schedule allows, makes new recordings. 

 
 
  
 
 

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