Jimmie Davis was a popular country singer in the 1930s and made a number of western movies including the likes of Cyclone Prairie Rangers, Mississippi Rhythm and Square Dance Katy. But throughout the world, he made his mark with Sunshine.
A few years back, I was in Cambodia at the Golden Triangle, where Burma and Thailand converge. I was having breakfast in a rural village at an outdoor café, and the young waitress who knew a few words in English said, “You American. I love America. I sing about America.” Then, with a big grin on her face, she broke out in song and danced around the dirt floor singing “You Are My Sunshine.”
After serving two terms as Louisiana Governor, Davis spent a lot of time at his farm in northeast Louisiana, traveling back and forth from the state capitol in Baton Rouge. The Governor was friends with my senior law partner in Ferriday and made it a habit to stop at our office for a coffee break. I was a wet behind the ears 26-year-old attorney and often the only one in the office. So Jimmie Davis would talk at length about his life and gave me my first political education.
He would often ask me to notarize some document, which I was glad to do. “So what do I owe you Brother Brown?” he would say. I always settled for a few verses of Sunshine. He regularly inquired if I could find him a raccoon. Up in redneck country, we just call it a coon. His favorite meal was coon stew. Knowing the coon request would always come with his visit, I asked some local hunters I represented to drop off a raccoon. So I would keep one of those critters in the office freezer ready for the Governor's visit.
Now I know I have whetted your appetite for a delicious plate of raccoon. When I was elected Secretary of State some years later, I wrote a cookbook, and the Governor graciously gave me one of his favorite coon recipes to include in my gourmet collection of sumptuous dishes.
Davis made one last futile effort to be elected for a third term in 1971, while I made my foray in politics running for state senator. He often campaigned with his band in the district where I was running, and I would put up signs that read: “Come to the Jim Brown for Senator campaign rally. Special guest: Governor Jimmie Davis.” Davis laughed when he caught on to what I was doing and always called me up on the platform to introduce me as the district’s next state senator. He supported me every time I ran for public office after that.
Throughout my 28-year political career, Jimmie Davis would often come by my Baton Rouge office or call me to come visit at him at his home, which was right by the state capitol. I always knew he needed a notary. My last call was a few weeks before he died in 2000. He was donating a piece of property, but he insisted he pay me something. “OK Governor,” I told him. “When you pass on, I want you to give me your driver’s license number.” You see, Davis instituted the license requirement during his first term as governor in 1944. And the number on his license? Number one. “A done deal,” he told me.
Of course, I never actually got it. But it was good way to end our 35-year relationship with a smile. And Sunshine? Who was she? A past lover? A devoted family member? No. Sunshine was Jimmie Davis’s horse. The palomino mare is buried up on the northeast Louisiana farm. I pass that way occasionally and remember back on my conversations with the Governor. And yes. I do hum a few bars of “You Are My Sunshine.”