Artist Details

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Jimmie Davis

Politicians have dabbled in music and musicians have flirted with politics, but it’s rare for one person to climb to the top in both fields. Songwriter Jimmie Davis was a country superstar as well as Governor of the state of Louisiana, serving two separate terms. He was born September 11, 1899, in Quitman, a rural town located in the Northeast part of the state. He was the first of 11 children born to Sam Jones Davis and Sara Works. The family lived in a two-room shack and worked as sharecroppers on a farm. Country and gospel music was a part of everyday life, and Jimmie learned to play guitar while building a large repertoire of songs. Although his father only had a third-grade education, Jimmie graduated from high school in Beech Springs and enrolled in Louisiana College, where he joined the glee club. He sang lead tenor for a quartet called the Wildcat Four, and earned money by washing dishes and busking on street corners. He received a master’s degree from Louisiana State University, and later was a professor of history at Dodd College, a Baptist school for women.

Davis entered politics and became interested in a musical career at the same time. In 1928 he went to work as a criminal court clerk in Shreveport. He was also singing in gospel concerts at church meetings and was a performer on radio station KWKH. In 1929 a talent scout from RCA Records heard him sing and signed him to the label. For four years, he recorded songs that imitated the style of the biggest star of the day, Jimmie Rodgers.

By 1934, Davis had developed his own vocal style. He relied less on the honky-tonk blues popularized by Rodgers, and became a softer crooner. In September 1934 he began recording for the new Decca label just one month after it was founded as an American company. Jimmie also became a peermusic composer and remained so throughout his life. In 1935 he earned enough money from his first big hit, “Nobody’s Darling But Mine,” to pay off old debts and purchase a farm. A year later, he had another major hit with a song that became a country standard, “It Makes No Difference Now.” In 1938, the same year Collier’s magazine called Davis and Gene Autry the two biggest stars of country music, Davis ran for office and was elected commissioner of public safety for Shreveport.

By the end of the decade, Davis was a well-known recording artist and one of the biggest headliners in country music. As the new decade began, Davis recorded the song that would become his biggest hit all over the world. On February 4, 1940, Davis stepped into a recording studio in Chicago to record his composition “You Are My Sunshine.” When it was released in March, it became a million-seller and an international hit. Gene Autry and Bing Crosby were among the first of over 350 artists to record the song, which was eventually translated into more than 30 languages.

In 1942, Davis made his film debut. He played himself in “Riding Through Nevada” and “Strictly in the Groove.” That same year, he was named State Public Service Commissioner. Davis was a household name when he ran for Governor of Louisiana on the Democratic ticket in 1944. Encouraged by Ralph S. Peer to use “You Are My Sunshine” as his campaign song, he defeated the political machine of Huey Long to win the election on an anti-corruption slate. While Governor, he had the biggest chart hit of his career with his song “There’s a New Moon Over My Shoulder.” The single spent a week at No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart in March 1945.

After completing his first term of office, Davis starred in “Louisiana,” a 1947 film based on his own life. He concentrated on his recording career again, with an emphasis on gospel music. In 1957 he was given the American Youth Singers Award for Best Male Sacred Singer.

In 1960, Davis was elected to a second term as Governor of Louisiana. While serving as chief executive again, he returned to Billboard’s country chart after an absence of almost 15 years with a top 20 hit, “Where the Old Red River Flows.”

In 1967, Davis served as president of the Gospel Music Association. In 1971, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and a year later, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame. In the spring of 1992 Davis appeared on a CBS special celebrating the Country Music Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary, and in 1998 he recorded a new version of "You Are My Sunshine” [available through digitalpressure.com]. At a 100th birthday party held in Baton Rouge in 1999, Davis performed four songs. The affair was a benefit for the Jimmy Davis Tabernacle Fund.

On Sunday, November 5, 2000, at the age of 101, Davis passed away in his sleep at his home in Baton Rouge.