by Suzanne Labry
The Sunshine Governor's Necktie Quilts
Few places can claim to have a more colorful political past than the state of Louisiana. With behavior that was occasionally raucous, sometimes even shocking, the cast of characters who have participated in public life in “the Bayou State” certainly could never be called dull.
Adding his own particular tone to the mix was James Houston (Jimmie) Davis, known as the “Singing Governor,” who served two terms: 1944-1948 and 1960-1964. Born into poverty (he was one of 11 children born to a sharecropping family who lived in a two-room shack), Davis nevertheless got a college education.
Photo Right: Louisiana’s Governor Jimmie Davis was a recording star as well as a politician.
After completing his master’s degree in 1924,
and while teaching history and yodeling at an
all-female school, he began singing for a radio station in the state capital, Baton Rouge, and became a country music recording star before entering politics.
His most popular song “You Are My Sunshine,” which he claimed to have written. It became one of the world’s most recognizable songs, eventually being recorded by more than 350 artists, selling millions of records and being translated into 30 languages.
Jimmie Davis used it as his campaign theme song and he became so closely associated with it that he was referred to as the Sunshine Governor. It is said that whenever he was on the campaign trail and the political questions became too uncomfortable, he would diffuse the situation by singing that song.
As was the custom for men in Jimmie Davis’ time, he always
wore a necktie in public. The popular style of tie during that era tended to be wide and often displayed bold patterns and designs. Being a popular performer and public figure, Davis had a lot of ties—so many, in fact, that his mother-in-law decided to make a quilt out of them.
Photo Right: Some of Jimmie Davis's neckties. Old Governor's Mansion, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Davis was married to Alvern Adams, a schoolteacher from a prominent Shreveport family. Alvern reportedly did not always approve of the lyrics to the songs Davis would sing, as some of them could be quite raunchy. The New York Times quoted him as saying, “I try out a song on my wife, and if she doesn't like it, I rush right out and record it." There is no record of what Alvern’s mother thought of her son-in-law’s singing, but the quilt she made for Davis from his neckties can be seen in the Old Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge.
Necktie quilts form a sub-genre of quilting all their own. Because ties are frequently made from silk or other slippery fabrics and are narrow widths cut on the bias, they lend themselves to foundation piecing techniques. Crazy patchwork, Log Pattern variations, and other flip-and-fold patterns are popular choices for necktie quilts.
Jimmie Davis’ mother-in-law chose to make crazy quilt for her famous son-in-law. In its own way, the quilt provides an interesting historical record of what was fashionable for a public figure in the U.S. South during the mid-20th century, adding its own array of colors to a colorful character in a colorful time in history.
Photo Left: The tie quilt made by Jimmie Davis's mother-in-law. Old Governor's Mansion, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.