History buffs in our community were delighted to hear the story of Louisiana’s “Singing Governor” Jimmy Davis. Musician Brian Sivils entertained with Davis’ songs and the story of his life Monday afternoon at the Red River Parish Library.
Sivils related the story of Davis’ life from humble beginnings as the son of sharecroppers living in poverty to his rise in the music industry to be one of the more prolific song writers, singers and producers. And he did this in addition to his life of politics. Davis was Governor of Louisiana from 1944-48 and again from 1960-64.
It was Davis’ music that Sivils brought to his Coushatta audience. Davis was a popular singer in the 1920s and 30s, however he was not a hillbilly musician. Sivils said, “Davis was a big star, only Gene Autry was bigger, and he had over 250 singles. He was associated with the biggest musicians of the time.”
To make his point, Sivils performed “Alimony Blues” and other Davis hits. “He was more pop and blues than country,” added Sivils. The blues definitely stood out when Sivils performed “Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine.”
Sivils said because Davis grew up in poverty on the farm, his family and other white families worked alongside black families, all in the same state of poverty. “This carried over into his recording,” Sivils said, “while other hillbilly artists were recording in Nashville, Davis was recording with blues artists in Memphis.”
His musical career transitioned to gospel. Sivils said, “Davis recorded gospel songs just as Elvis and other country/pop artists of the day.” Sivils performed “There’s Evil In Ye Children, Gather Round” as an example. Those in the audience didn’t seem to understand that it was a gospel song. Same for several other examples, to which Sivils remarked, “It says they went to church in the song!” Then Sivils did “An Uncloudy Day” which the audience gladly accepted as a gospel song.
The hour long performance concluded with “You Are My Sunshine” which Sivils termed one of the most popular and widespread songs of all time, “Up there with ‘Happy Birthday’ as a song just about everyone knows and can sing along,” said Sivils and when he sang “Sunshine” he did it to a waltz beat, instead of a two-step. Despite controversy surrounding authorship, Sivils presented documents that Davis and Charles Mitchell did write the song. And he said, “Davis bought out Mitchell so it’s his 100 percent.”
The show was very interesting from a historical perspective. It was very enjoyable from a musical perspective. The Journal thinks Brian Sivils captured the life and time of Jimmy Davis, right down to his grave stone. Davis lived to be over 100 years old and gave a performance of “Sunshine” at his 100thbirthday concert. He is a true Louisiana Legend.