Jimmie Davis

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Jimmie Davis
Jimmie Davis 1962.jpg
Davis in 1962
47th Governor of Louisiana
In office
May 9, 1944 – May 11, 1948
Lieutenant J. Emile Verret
Preceded by Sam H. Jones
Succeeded by Earl K. Long
In office
May 10, 1960 – May 12, 1964
Lieutenant Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock
Preceded by Earl K. Long
Succeeded by John McKeithen
Personal details
Born James Houston Davis
(1899-09-11)September 11, 1899
Quitman, Jackson Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died November 5, 2000(2000-11-05) (aged 101)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Resting place Jimmie Davis Tabernacle Cemetery east of

Jonesboro, Louisiana

Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) (1) Alvern Adams Davis
(2) Anna Carter Gordon Davis (d.2004)
Children James William "Jim" Davis

Granddaughter: DeCarla Sunshine Davis Netterville
Stepchildren Greg Gordon and Vicky Gordon

Profession Singer, songwriter, former educator, politician
Religion Baptist
Davis homestead in Jackson Parish

James Houston "Jimmie" Davis (September 11, 1899 – November 5, 2000) was a singer of both sacred and popular songs who served for two nonconsecutive terms from 1944 to 1948 and from 1960 to 1964 as the governor of his native Louisiana, USA.

Davis was a nationally popular country music and gospel singer from the 1930s into the 1960s, occasionally recording and performing as late as the early 1990s. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Early life[edit]

Davis was born in 1899 to a sharecropping couple, the former Sarah Elizabeth Works and Samuel Jones Davis, in the now-ghost town of Beech Springs southeast of Quitman in Jackson Parish in north Louisiana.[1] The family was so poor that young Jimmie did not have a bed in which to sleep until he was nine years old.

He graduated from Beech Springs High School and the New Orleans campus of Soule Business College. U.S. Representative Otto Passman also graduated from Soule but from the Bogalusa campus. Davis received his bachelor's degree in history from the Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville in Rapides Parish. He received a master's degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. His 1927 master's thesis, which examines the intelligence levels of different races, is titled Comparative Intelligence of Whites, Blacks and Mulattoes.[2]

During the late 1920s, Davis taught history (and, unofficially, yodeling) for a year at the former Dodd College for Girls in Shreveport. The college president, Monroe E. Dodd, who was also the pastor of the large First Baptist Church of Shreveport and a pioneer radio preacher, invited Davis to join the faculty.

Musical career[edit]

Davis became a commercially successful singer of rural music before he entered politics. His early work was in the style of early country music luminary Jimmie Rodgers, and he was also known for recording energetic and raunchy blues tunes such as "Red Nightgown Blues". Some of these records included slide guitar accompaniment by black bluesman Oscar "Buddy" Woods. During his first run for governor, opponents reprinted the lyrics of some of these songs in order to undermine Davis's campaign. In one case, anti-Davis forces played some of the records over an outdoor sound system only to give up after the crowds started dancing, ignoring the double-entendre lyrics. Until the end of his life, Davis never denied or repudiated those records.

In 1999, "You Are My Sunshine" was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and the Recording Industry Association of America named it one of the Songs of the Century. "You Are My Sunshine" was ranked No. 73 on CMT's 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2003. Until his death, Davis insisted that he wrote the song. In any case, it will forever be associated with him.

Davis became the popular "singing governor" of Louisiana who often performed during his campaign stops. While governor, he had a No. 1 hit single in 1945 with "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder". Davis recorded for Decca Records for decades and released more than 40 albums. A long-time member of the Baptist faith, he also recorded a number of Southern gospel albums and in 1967 served as president of the Gospel Music Association. He was a close friend of the North Dakota-born band leader Lawrence Welk who frequently reminded viewers of his television program of his association with Davis.

A number of his songs were used as part of motion picture soundtracks, and Davis himself appeared in half a dozen films, one with Ozzie and Harriet. Members of Davis' last band included Allen "Puddler" Harris of Lake Charles, who had also been an original pianist of Ricky Nelson.

Singles[edit]

Year Single US Country
1937 "Nobody's Darling but Mine"
1938 "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland"
1940 "You Are My Sunshine"
1944 "Is It Too Late Now" 3
"There's a Chill on the Hill Tonight" 4
1945 "There's a New Moon Over My Shoulder" 1
1946 "Grievin' My Heart Out for You" 4
1947 "Bang Bang" 4
1962 "Where the Old Red River Flows" 15

Movie career[edit]

Davis had several appearances in movies (usually or always as himself), including:

Political career[edit]

Cork oak tree planted and dedicated by the Honorable Jimmie H. Davis.

Davis was elected in 1938 as Shreveport's public safety commissioner. Years later in the middle of Davis' second term as governor, George W. D'Artois, was elected public safety commissioner. D'Artois held the position for nearly four terms before he was forced to step down in scandal, much of which has never been resolved.[3] At the time, Shreveport had the city commission form of government but switched in 1978 to the current mayor-council format. After four years in Shreveport City Hall, Davis was elected in 1942 to the Louisiana Public Service Commission but left the rate-making body, which meets in Baton Rouge, two years later to begin his first term as governor.

First term as governor (1944–1948)[edit]

Davis was elected governor as a Democrat in 1944. Among those eliminated in the primary were State Senator Ernest S. Clements of Oberlin in Allen Parish, freshman U.S. Representative James H. Morrison of Hammond in Tangipahoa Parish, and Sam Caldwell, the mayor of Shreveport. Davis and Caldwell had served together earlier in Shreveport municipal government.

In the runoff, Davis defeated Lewis L. Morgan, an elderly attorney and former U.S. representative from Covington, the seat of St. Tammany Parish, who carried the backing of former Governor Earl Kemp Long and New Orleans Mayor Robert Maestri. Davis received 251,228 (53.6 percent) to Morgan's 217,915 (46.5 percent).

Davis pleased conservatives with his appointments to high positions of two of the leaders of the impeachment forces against Huey Pierce Long, Jr. He named Cecil Morgan of Shreveport to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission. Morgan was succeeded in the Louisiana House by Rupert Peyton of Shreveport, who also served as an aide to Davis. In addition, Davis retained the anti-Long Ralph Norman Bauer of St. Mary Parish as House speaker, a selection made originally in 1940 by Sam Jones.

On the other hand, Davis reached out to the Longites when he commuted the prison sentence imposed on former LSU President James Monroe Smith in the Louisiana Hayride scandals of the late 1930s. Like Davis, Smith was a native of Davis' Jackson Parish.[4]

Earl Long was seeking the lieutenant governorship on the Lewis Morgan "ticket" and led in the first primary in 1944, but he lost the runoff to J. Emile Verret of New Iberia, then the president of the Iberia Parish School Board.

Davis kept his hand in show business, and set a record for absenteeism during his first term with trips to Hollywood to make Western "horse operas."[5]

Davis was term-limited to a single non-consecutive term in office.

The election of 1959–1960[edit]

As a candidate for a second term in 1959–1960, Davis had been out of office for nearly a dozen years. Three Louisiana State University political scientists described him, accordingly:

Davis has all of the external attributes of a "man of the people", but his serious political connections seem to be with the [parish-seat] elite and its allies, particularly the major industrial combinations of the state. He is in many respects a toned-down version of the old-style southern politician who could spellbound the mass of voters into supporting him regardless of the effects of his programs on their welfare. . . . Davis creates the perfect image of a man to be trusted and one whose intense calm is calculated to bring rational balance into the political life of the state."[6]

With a pledge to fight for continued segregation in public education, Davis won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over a crowded field that included staunchly segregationist State Senator William M. Rainach of Claiborne Parish, former Lieutenant Governor Bill Dodd of Baton Rouge, former Governor James A. Noe of Monroe, and Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison. A. Roswell Thompson, the operator of a New Orleans taxi stand and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, also filed candidacy papers. Davis ran second to "Chep" Morrison, considered an anti-Long liberal by Louisiana standards, in the primary but then defeated Morrison in the party runoff held on January 9, 1960.

In the first round of balloting, Davis polled 213,551 (25.3 percent) to Morrison's 278,956 (33.1 percent). Rainach ran third with 143,095 (17 percent). Noe finished fourth with 97,654 (11.6 percent), and Dodd followed with 85,436 (10.1 percent). Davis won the northern and central parts of the state plus Baton Rouge, while Morrison dominated the southern portion of the state, particularly the French cultural parishes. In the runoff, Davis prevailed, 487,681 (54.1 percent) to Morrison's 414,110 (45.5 percent). It was estimated that Davis drew virtually all of the Rainach support from the first primary.

Earl Long endorsed Davis in the runoff because he had a longstanding personal dislike of Morrison. Rainach also supported Davis, as did the Rainach candidate for state comptroller, Joe D. Waggonner, both believing Davis to be a stronger segregationist than Morrison.[7]

Meanwhile, Earl Long had run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in the first primary. There was a runoff between Morrison's choice for the job, Alexandria Mayor W. George Bowdon, Jr., and Davis's selection, former state House Speaker Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock of Franklin in St. Mary Parish. Aycock defeated Bowdon by a margin similar to the plurality of Davis over Morrison. The defeat was Long's second for lieutenant governor. He had also lost in the 1944 primary to J. Emile Verret of Iberia Parish, who served in the second ranking position in the first Davis administration.

Davis effectively used the slogan "He's One of Us" in the gubernatorial race. Number 6 on the ballot, he assembled an intraparty ticket for other statewide constitutional officers, including Aycock for lieutenant governor, Roy R. Theriot of Abbeville for comptroller, Douglas Fowler of Coushatta for custodian of voting machines, Jack P.F. Gremillion for attorney general, Dave L. Pearce, originally from West Carroll Parish, for agriculture commissioner, Ellen Bryan Moore for register of state lands, and Rufus Hayes for insurance commissioner, all four based in Baton Rouge. The entire Davis ticket was elected.[8]

In their study The Louisiana Election of 1960, William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard demonstrated that Davis built his second-primary victory by narrowly edging Morrison in the eastern and western extremities of south Louisiana. Davis secured the backing of organized labor and made inroads among the white, urban working class, which would have been essential to a Morrison victory. In the seven urban industrial parishes, which then comprised some 46.5 percent of the total turnout, Davis topped Morrison by 7,368 votes (50.8 percent) of the 419,537 applicable subtotal. Morrison polled 60 percent in his own Orleans Parish and 54.6 percent in adjacent suburban Jefferson Parish, but in the industrial strip and in less Roman Catholic areas, Morrison slipped. The second primary attracted 57,744 more votes than the initial stage of balloting, and analysts indicated that the lion's share of the additional ballots were segregationists who backed Davis.[9]

In the general election held on April 19, 1960, Davis defeated Republican Francis Grevemberg, a Lafayette native, by a margin of nearly 82–17 percent. Grevemberg had been head of the state police under Democratic Governor Robert F. Kennon and had gained a reputation for fighting organized crime. He called for the origin of a two-party system for Louisiana. As the Democratic nominee, Davis faced no serious political threat and did little campaigning against Grevemberg. It has been reported that had General Curtis LeMay turned down George C. Wallace's offer to be his candidate for vice president in 1968 on the American Independent Party ticket that Wallace was ready to announce Davis as his selection for vice president. Other sources say Wallace's second choice was the former governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus.

Davis and Dodd[edit]

In the 1959 campaign, Bill Dodd had attacked Davis ferociously: it was part of Dodd's strategy to get Davis to withdraw from the primary. "Nothing personal in his [Dodd's] heart, just a cold-blooded plan to wind up in a second primary against Morrison, who he figured could not win against anyone [else] in a runoff," said Davis in the introduction to Dodd's memoirs, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics. Dodd then endorsed Morrison in the runoff, but he had a long-term reason for this decision. Dodd planned to run for school superintendent in the 1963 primary, and he wanted to have at least the neutrality of Morrison four years thereafter.

Dodd and Davis later became close friends. In Davis' words:

Bill and I have many things in common. We share the same type of religion and boyhood background; we got our start as schoolteachers and figured prominently in public education; we both served in public life at or near the top. And I like to feel that we share a common appreciation and respect for people, all people. One of the greatest rewards in politics is meeting people. And one of the greatest and most unusual men I've ever met is Bill Dodd.

Second term (1960–1964)[edit]

Davis' appointees in the second term included outgoing State Representative Claude Kirkpatrick of Jennings, the seat of Jefferson Davis Parish, who was named to succeed Lorris M. Wimberly as the Director of Public Works. In that capacity, Kirkpatrick took the steps for a joint agreement with Texas to establish the popular Toledo Bend Reservoir, a haven for boating and fishing. Mrs. Kirkpatrick, the former Edith Killgore, a native of Claiborne Parish, headed Davis' women's campaign division for southwestern Louisiana. He appointed Alexandria businessman Morgan W. Walker, Sr., to the State Mineral Board. Walker founded a company which later became part of Continental Trailways Bus lines. Davis named as state highway director Ray Burgess of Baton Rouge, who considered running for governor in the 1963 primary. He tapped the attorney Frank Voelker, Jr., of Lake Providence, to chair the states' rights panel, the Louisiana Sovereignty Commission; Voelker left the commission to run for governor in 1963 but polled few votes.[10]

In his second term, Davis chose veteran Representative J. Thomas Jewell of New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish as House Speaker to succeed Earl Long's appointee, Bob Angelle. Davis secured passage of a $60 million public improvements bond issue through the State Board and Building Commission, an organization controlled by the governor. He gained legislative support from many formerly pro-Long lawmakers and cemented his hold on the traditional anti-Long bloc. He avoided defeat on any legislation that he strongly supported and was able to defeat nearly all bills with which he did not concur. He offered tacit support to the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson national Democrats to secure the state's hold of pending offshore oil revenues. In the 1963 legislative fiscal session, he defeated efforts to procure an unpledged presidential elector slate for the 1964 general election, by which time he had been succeeded by John J. McKeithen.[11]

Fourth place in 1971[edit]

In 1971, Davis entered another crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary field with new political prospects, but he finished in fourth place with 138,756 ballots (11.8 percent).

In a runoff election held in December 1971, U.S. Representative Edwin Washington Edwards of Crowley in Acadia Parish defeated then state Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport for the party nomination. That vote was close: Edwards, 584,262 (50.2 percent) to Johnston's 579,774 (49.8 percent). Edwards then beat Republican David C. Treen in the state general election held on February 1, 1972. By that time, Davis' days as a politician were clearly behind him.

Toward the end of his life, longtime Democrat Davis endorsed at least two Republican candidates: state Representative Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Mary Landrieu of New Orleans in 1996 and the reelection of Governor Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr., who faced little opposition in 1999 from African-American Democratic Congressman William J. Jefferson of New Orleans. A former aide to U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., Jefferson was engulfed in personal financial scandals in 2006 and subsequently defeated for reelection to the U.S. House by Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao in 2008.

Political legacy[edit]

Davis established a State Retirement System and funding of more than $100 million in public improvements while leaving the state with a $38 million surplus after his first term.[12]

During his second term, Davis built the Sunshine Bridge, the new Louisiana Governor's Mansion, and Toledo Bend Reservoir, all criticized at the time, but later recognized as beneficial to the state. Davis coordinated the pay periods of state employees, who had sometimes received their checks a week late, a particular hardship to those with low earnings.

During his time as governor, Davis attempted to enforce policies of racial segregation, but federal law slowly brought about desegregation. One time during his tenure, he rode his horse up the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol to protest integration. Davis apologized for his actions later in life.[citation needed]

Earl Long once remarked that Davis was so relaxed and low-key that one could not "wake up Jimmie Davis with an earthquake".[13]

Public relations specialist Gus Weill, who worked in the Davis campaign in 1959, wrote a biography of the former governor in 1977, entitled You Are My Sunshine, based on Davis' best-known song.[14]

Honors[edit]

The Jimmie Davis Bridge over the Red River on Louisiana State Highway 511 connects Shreveport and Bossier City.

The Jimmie Davis Bridge atop the Red River connects Shreveport and Bossier City via Louisiana Highway 511. It was named in his honor during his second term as governor.

Jimmie Davis State Park is located on Caney Lake (not to be confused with Caney Lakes Recreation Area near Minden) southwest of Chatham.

The Jimmie Davis Tabernacle is located near Weston in Jackson Parish. The tabernacle hosts occasional gospel singing. At the site is a replica of the Davis homestead (c. 1900) and of the Peckerwood Hill Store, an old general store that served the community.

Davis was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1972 and The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

In 1993, Davis was among the first thirteen inductees of the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[15] The Hall of Fame also periodically issues the "Friends of Jimmie Davis Award". In 2005, the award was presented to then U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, who once hosted Davis in a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Speaking at the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame, Stevens recalled having been with both Davis and Ronald W. Reagan, when Reagan was contemplating his first run for governor of California and asked Davis for political advice. At the gathering, Stevens joined the Jimmie Davis Band in a rendition of "You Are My Sunshine".[16]

The 2006 recipient of the "Friends of Jimmie Davis" award was the late former State Senator B.G. Dyess, a Baptist minister from Rapides Parish.

Davis married the former Alvern Adams in this historic Shreveport house in the Highlands neighborhood. It was formerly owned by the Eglins, the maternal grandparents of Davis' second successor as governor, John J. McKeithen.[17]
Jimmie Davis Tabernacle west of Quitman
Davis grave located in small cemetery behind the tabernacle
Grave of Louisiana First Lady Alvern Adams Davis, who died thirty-three years before her husband.

The Davis archives of papers and photographs is housed in the "You Are My Sunshine" Collection of the Linus A. Sims Memorial Library at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.[18]

Davis believed that his singing career enhanced his political prospects. He once told Georgia Republican Ronnie Thompson, a mayor of Macon: "If you want to have any success in politics, sing softly and carry a big guitar," a play on an old Theodore Roosevelt adage.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Davis' first wife, the former Alvern Adams, the daughter of a physician in Shreveport, was the first lady while he was governor during both terms. She died in 1967. He thereafter married Anna Carter Gordon, then a member of the Chuck Wagon Gang gospel singers based in Nashville, Tennessee.[20] She died in 2004.

Out of office, Davis resided primarily in Baton Rouge but made numerous singing appearances, particularly in churches throughout the United States.

Davis died on November 5, 2000. He had suffered a fall in his home some ten months earlier and may have had a stroke in his last days. He is interred alongside his first wife at the Jimmie Davis Tabernacle Cemetery in his native Beech Springs community near Quitman. In addition to his second wife, Anna, Davis was survived by a son, James William "Jim" Davis (November 25, 1944 - November 2, 2012), a farmer from Newellton in Tensas Parish in northeastern Louisiana, where the former governor owned considerable property. Davis had a daughter-in-law, Diane Keahey Davis of Newellton, the widow of Jim Davis, a granddaughter, DeCarla Sunshine Davis Netterville, and her husband, Jeff, of Natchez, Mississippi, and two great-grandchildren, Summer Katlyn Netterville and Addie Grace Netterville. There were also two step-children, Greg Gordon and Vicky Gordon. Jim Davis was cremated.[21][22]

Davis was aged 101 years and 55 days,[21] which made him the longest-lived of all U.S. state governors at the time of his death. Davis held this record until March 18, 2011, when Albert Rosellini of Washington achieved a greater lifespan of 101 years, 56 days.

Davis was posthumously inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ancestry of Jimmie Davis
  2. ^ "Item Display - Comparative intelligence of whites, blacks and mulattoes". Lsu.louislibraries.org:5203. 2003-08-21. Retrieved 2013-07-01. 
  3. ^ Bill Keith, The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2009, pp. 80-89; ISBN 9781-58980-655-9. Retrieved June 10, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Smith, James Monroe". A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography (Louisiana Historical Association). Retrieved March 25, 2011. 
  5. ^ Mathur, Monika (June 23, 2009). "A look at odd behavior by US governors". Associated Press. 
  6. ^ William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Studies, 1963, p. 40
  7. ^ Minden Herald, December 31, 1959
  8. ^ Davis exhibit, Delta Music Museum, Ferriday, Louisiana
  9. ^ Havard, Heberle, and Havard, The Louisiana Election of 1960, pp. 50–52
  10. ^ Havard, Heberle, and Howard, The Louisiana Election of 1960, p. 99
  11. ^ Havard, Heberle, and Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960, pp. 90–92
  12. ^ Louisiana Secretary of State
  13. ^ Carville: Wake up Democrats; you could lose
  14. ^ You Are My Sunshine: The Jimmie Davis Story, An Affectionate Biography (Baton Rouge: Pelican Publishing Company, 1977), ISBN 0882896601 (0-88289-660-1)
  15. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". cityofwinnfield.com. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  16. ^ "Tom Kelly, "Winnfield opens Civic Center with "Hall" event: Renovated forestry building is modern, ready to serve for years into the future", February 2005". thepineywoods.com. Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  17. ^ Source: Historic marker, Eglin House in Shreveport
  18. ^ Davis Collection at Southeastern (retrieved 2012-05-06).
  19. ^ Davis, quoted in Eric Welch, "Gospel-singing Jeweler Is 'Country' Candidate", Macon Telegraph, 1967 August 26, p. A1.
  20. ^ See also J. Bazzel Mull.
  21. ^ a b ""Sunshine" singer Jimmie Davis dead at 101". mtv.com. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  22. ^ "James William Davis obituary". Monroe News Star. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  • Toru Mitsui (1998). "Jimmie Davis." In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 136.
  • Kevin S. Fontenot, "You Can't Fight a Song: Country Music in Jimmie Davis' Gubernatorial Campaigns," Journal of Country Music (2007).

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sam H. Jones
Governor of Louisiana
May 9, 1944–May 11, 1948
Succeeded by
Earl K. Long
Preceded by
Earl K. Long
Governor of Louisiana
May 10, 1960–May 12, 1964
Succeeded by
John McKeithen
Honorary titles
Preceded by
J. Bracken Lee
Oldest living United States governor
October 20, 1996 – November 5, 2000
Succeeded by
Strom Thurmond
Preceded by
Nellie Tayloe Ross
Oldest United States governor ever
October 2, 2000 – March 17, 2011
Succeeded by
Albert Rosellini