Between 1990 and 1993 artist George Rodrigue painted sixteen portraits on three canvases of Living Legends for Louisiana Public Broadcasting. The 1990 honorees and Rodrigue’s tribute painting launched an LPB tradition continuing today.
All proceeds from posters of the three paintings benefited LPB’s television programming.
“At the gala,” recalls Rodrigue, "each nominee gave a short acceptance speech. Jimmie Davis, age 91, approached the podium slowly and read his prepared words, as we all clapped for our former Governor.”
(pictured: Louisiana Legends 1990, 40x30 inches, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue; back row, Ron Guidry, Ernest J. Gaines, Gene Callahan; front row, Jimmie Davis, Russell Long, Justin Wilson; click photo to enlarge-)
In 1991 LPB honored Rodrigue as well, resulting in a self-portrait. The artist was as famous by this time for his Blue Dog paintings as for his images of Cajun folk life.
(pictured: Louisiana Legends 1991, 40x30 inches, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue; left to right, George Rodrigue, Dr. Michael DeBakey, Al Hirt*, General Robert H. Barrow, Bob Petit; click photo to enlarge-)
And in 1993 Rodrigue’s final LPB painting echoes his first two with his classic oak tree and timeless figures.
(pictured: Louisiana Legends 1993, 40x30 inches, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue; left to right, Judge John Minor Wisdom, James Carville, Rex Reed, Elizabeth Ashley, Pete Fountain*; click photo to enlarge-)
Although honored to paint and participate in the Louisiana Legends, it was the first gala in 1990 that remains poignant for Rodrigue. At the presentation’s end, Master of Ceremonies Gus Weill shared with the crowd,
“We have a real treat for you tonight.”
He opened the curtain, revealing Jimmie Davis (1899-2000) and his band.
“This elderly man who barely made it to the podium earlier,” recalls Rodrigue, “transformed before us, along with his old cronies, into a twenty year old kid.”
Davis began his speech again, as though his first time on stage:
“I recorded this song fifty years ago. Since then it’s been recorded hundreds of times in hundreds of languages, and we’re pleased to play it for ya’ll tonight. If you know the words, chime in.”
There wasn’t a shy voice or dry eye in the room, as the two-term Louisiana Governor performed “You Are My Sunshine.”
According to Rodrigue...
“...the minute the music started, Jimmie Davis danced a jig, and the crowd stood on its feet. It was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever seen. He played two encores.”
“That day,” continues the artist, “I saw an old man become young again; that day I watched Louisiana history play out before me; and that day I truly saw what it means to be a living legend.”
*Rodrigue painted Louisiana Legends Pete Fountain and Al Hirt again in 1996 and 2000 for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Story linked here-