Saturday, October 10, 2009

You Are My Sunshine; Mac and Bud

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy...

For years "You Are my Sunshine" was the theme song for the Governor of Mississippi, Jimmie Davis. For years Davis, a recording artist, guitarist and singer claimed he wrote the song. Would he lie to us? What does Jimmie Davis have to do with Clayton McMichen?

"Mac" and "Bud" were good friends once. This was in Atlanta, Georgia in 1921. Mac was the secretary and Bud was the president but they weren't politicians like Davis. They started a rival competition to the Georgia Old-Time Fiddler's Convention.

On Sept. 29, 1921 the Atlanta Journal reported: On the eve of the opening of the 1921 old-time fiddlers' convention, it is announced that a rival organization was formed on Wednesday night which purports to be the real thing and says the existing bunch of fiddlers will not be recognized by them as the 'Old-time fiddlers' of Georgia. "John Carson and Gid Tanner can't hold a light to "Bud" Silvey and "Mac" McMichen," said J.J. Owen stated Thursday morning.

According to one report, Lowe Stokes (and Mac through Lowe) was influenced by long-bow fiddler Joe Lee but there's another Atlanta area fiddler who was an influence. That's right--- Bud Silvey.

Beginning in 1913 and running until 1935 the Georgia Old-Time Fiddle Contest was the premiere old-time event in the country. The annual fiddlers' conventions were held in the old Atlanta City Auditorium (the lobby and front offices of which later became Georgia State University's Alumni Hall) at the corner of Courtland and Gilmer streets.

A typical convention began on a Thursday and ended the following Saturday night. The Thursday and Friday night programs were exhibition, or warm-up, programs and featured string bands, comedians, dancers, singers, and other types of entertainers in addition to the fiddlers. The contest, held on Saturday night, was usually followed by a square dance in the auditorium's Taft Hall (later Veterans' Memorial Hall). Crowned state champions included J. B. Singley (1913), Fiddlin' John Carson (1914, 1923, 1927), Shorty Harper (1915, 1916), John Silvey (1917), A. A. Gray (1918, 1921, 1922, 1929), F. B. Coupland (1919), R. M. Stanley (1920), Lowe Stokes (1924, 1925), Earl Johnson (1926), Gid Tanner (1928), Joe Collins (1930), and Anita Sorrells Wheeler (1931, 1934).

John H. Silvey, who I assume was related to the 1917 winner, had one son born in 1874- Rufus Marion Silvey. John fought in the Civil War when he was young man and was injured in the battle of Manassas. Rufus Silvey's son, nicknamed Bud was named after his father. Bud was born on Oct. 9, 1892 in Rome, Georgia.

The huge Georgia competition was dominated by Fiddlin' John Carson, A.A. Gray and Gid Tanner, the older crowd favorites. There's a record of McMichen entering the contest two times: In 1915, two weeks after his 15th birthday, McMichen placed 8th in the fiddle competition out of 75 entries. In 1922 he won 2nd place for his rendition of Arkansas Traveler.

The confident and brash young McMichen felt that he was among the top fiddlers yet the top prize was going to the most popular fiddler- not the best performer. No one knows what happened to the rival fiddle contest Bud and Mac organized for one year in 1921. Their fledgling competition couldn't compete with the huge popular contest.

Bud Silvey married the Rice Brother's mother when they were both young. He encouraged them to become musicians, taught them, performed with them and shaped their careers. From the Rice Brothers, Jimmie Davis got the song, "You Are My Sunshine." He paid Paul Rice for it in 1939. Curiously, the Rice Brothers didn't even write the song.

The following is from: The Rice Brothers Hillbillies With Uptown Ambitions By Wayne W. Daniel

Hoke Rice was born January 8, 1909, some 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, in Hall County. Four years later, on July 23, 1913, while the family was still living in the same Chestnut Mountain community near Gainesville, Paul was born. Their father, a preacher and cobbler, repaired soles during the week and saved souls on Sundays. From their mother, who played five-string banjo, fiddle and piano, the Rice brothers inherited their musical talent.

Around 1920, when Hoke was 11 years old and Paul was about seven, their parents separated. Mrs. Rice later married a textile mill mechanic and part-time musician named Rufus M. "Bud" Silvey. He subsequently encouraged and helped shape the musical development of his two stepsons. In pursuit of his textile trade, Silvey and his family lived in several small towns in Georgia. Silvey's musical enterprises, which later included Hoke and Paul encompassed a wider circuit and took them to small towns in several Southeastern states.

In his late teens, Hoke took guitar lessons from a classical and pop-oriented guitarist, thus laying the foundation for the jazz and pop stylings that characterized the music of his professional career. By 1929, after having served his musical apprenticeship with his stepfather, he was making a name for himself in the Atlanta area as a solo performer. Into the early 1930's he was a sought-after guitarist by record company executives who brought their portable equipment to the city to record local artists. He recorded with both blues and hillbilly performers and fronted his own band as a vocalist on several records. In addition, he could be heard regularly on Atlanta radio stations.

Paul Rice, like his brother Hoke, also broke away from his stepfather in an attempt to establish an independent career. In the 1920's he worked on WSB and recorded with Fiddling John Carson and with Gid Tanner. In Gainesville, Georgia, while working in a textile mill, he organized his own band to play at dances for mill employees.

Sometime in 1939, Hoke and Paul returned to Shreveport, Louisiana, where they became regular performers on KWKH. They performed on the popular KWKH Saturday Night Roundup, staged in the larger towns around Shreveport, such as Monroe, Louisiana; Dorado, Kansas; and Lufkin, Texas. For a while Hoke and Paul also appeared daily over KTBS on a mid-morning program sponsored by Southern Maid Donuts. For this show they were billed as The Southern Maid Donut Boys.

While in Shreveport they became associated with country singer, recording artist and politician Jimmie Davis, two-time governor of Louisiana. Paul may have wished later that they hadn't. As the acknowledged composer of "You Are My Sunshine," Paul sold the song to Davis for whom it became a hit record and tremendous money-maker. According to a story in the Shreveport Times of September 16, 1956, Paul sold the song to' Davis and his partner Charles Mitchell for $35, money he needed to pay his wife's hospital bills. The Rice Brothers' bass player, Reggie Ward, told writer Louise Hewitt that "they asked me to sign as a witness the typed document transferring all rights to Davis and Mitchell."


Angela :) said...

Great article! I learned a lot about Bud Silvey who was my ancestor :)

Angela :) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.