Time Capsule: Jimmie Davis Sings His Way into Voters’ Hearts for a Second Time

Country singer and songwriter Jimmie H. Davis, the son of a sharecropper who enlivened the campaign trail by performing with a quartet, won his second term as governor of Louisiana on this day in 1960.  Best remembered as the composer of the hit song “You Are My Sunshine,” Davis, who could not read or write music and possessed little formal knowledge of chord structure, had served a previous term as governor of the Pelican State from 1944 to 1948.

Davis’ comeback twelve years after he left the governor’s mansion was never in doubt as he easily trounced Republican Francis C. Grevemberg, a former state police superintendent who had led a widely-publicized crackdown on gambling-related corruption in Louisiana several years earlier.  As expected, the “Singing Governor” annihilated his outclassed Republican rival by more than 320,000 votes, defeating the former police chief by a margin of 407,907 votes to 86,135.  The States Rights Party’s Kent H. Courtney, a longtime leader of the John Birch Society in New Orleans and publisher of the Independent American newspaper, ran a distant third in that lopsided contest with 12,515 votes.

Promising to preserve segregation while capitalizing on the tumultuous administration of his successor and political rival Earl K. Long, Davis had handily defeated deLesseps Morrison, the debonair mayor of New Orleans, in the Democratic runoff primary three months earlier — a victory tantamount to election in a state where nearly 99 percent of the voters were registered Democratic at the time.

“All I want to do now is to catch two or three big catfish,” an elated Davis told supporters as the returns trickled in on April 19.

While the 1960 campaign marked the pinnacle of the troubadour’s colorful political career, Davis found himself on George C. Wallace’s short list of vice-presidential possibilities in 1968 — the year the former Alabama governor, running on a third-party ticket, captured nearly 10 million votes against Republican Richard M. Nixon and Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey.

The folksy and likeable Davis, who vetoed right-to-work legislation and established the state’s first civil service system during his second term as governor, was reportedly waiting in the wings in the event that former Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis E. LeMay declined to serve as Wallace’s vice-presidential running mate that year.

Davis, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame who lived to the ripe old age of 101, tried to win the Louisiana governorship for a third time in 1971, but finished fourth in that year’s unusually crowded Democratic primary.

One Response

  1. Susie Labry
    Susie Labry June 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm | | Reply

    and I thought I knew Jimmie Davis. I was personal friends and neighbors to him as well as fan followed him to all the concerts here down South. I am always finding out more and more about people I know personally, as in Jimmie, it is exciting to dig up bones and find out more about him. I never knew he was a contender for Vice President. I remember the Wallace campaign headquarters at the old Poplar Theater on Jeanette Street in New Orleans. Finding out all the minute little details in his bio that never was out about him playing basketball in high school, supposedly living 3 centuries, 100% attendance at high school reunion in 1997. I also found out in later days he built that wonderful Highway 90 Westbank Expressway and the Slidell Twins between New Orleans. Another exciting time of my life is when I introduced a cousin to him, Carleton Jones, who got his guitar signed and authographed, WOW! How elating and this was at the very same time I discovered my own mothers family tree, 1999. Everywhere I go I see Jimmie Davis projects I never knew about, the hospitals and schools GALORE! He is our Good Man of many Halls of Fames and a lst in a lot of projects and events, the First. First long distance call to Germany, and even one of my own firsts, long distance call in 1971, first centurian I ever met, first lp record album I have purchased then, and many other firsts. He also was last to break the deadlock to him getting Jack Kennedy the Nomination for President at Democratic Convention in 59. I campaigned for Gov. Davis for Governor in 1971, which had great geographical impact on me: LSU, Baton Rouge, lst Baptist Church, named my pen after his love (Sunshine) etc. and, also here, his long tail of friends from 100s down to teens and kids, many many of my friends are and were his friends, my networking with him still going on strong, like me my friends I’ve met thru him from 100s down to kid spanning 3 centuries at his 100th birthday 91199 I so realized. Wrote songs honoring him and have drawn strong inspirations in his presence of a dozen songs I wrote. Gov. Davis is whom I networked model as I call Model/Idol, I still am learning more about MYSELF! Your Louisiana Sunshine, Susie

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