“The Bear Flew Over the Ocean”

Jimmy Driftwood was born James C. Morris on June 20, 1907 in a log cabin in Richwood, Arkansas.  He attended Mountain View High School and taught first through eighth grades before receiving his college diploma.

In 1933 Jimmy (he also spelled his name Jimmie on occasion) attended John Brown College for one year, but later received his teaching degree from Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) in Conway.  After receiving his degree in 1949 he accepted a job with a company that specialized in teaching students how to read.  He soon relocated to Louisiana.

Prior to moving to Louisiana he had written a song about the Battle of New Orleans.  This song was written to help his sixth grade students remember the facts of the battle.  Jimmy simply put the facts of the conflict into a poem and his students memorized the song and could then recall the facts of the battle.  The song was soon picked up by Johnny Horton who turned it into a gold record.  Jimmy won a Grammy award for “Battle of New Orleans,” “Tennessee Stud,” “Wilderness Road,” “Songs of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb.”

During the summer of 1959, Jimmy heard that Russia’s General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, was going to visit the United States in September of 1959. Jimmy, being a prolific song-writer, quickly wrote a song for the occasion.  At the time he was contracted to RCA Victor Records, and they pressed 100,000 copies of “The Bear Flew Over The Ocean.”

Jimmy Driftwood, an alumnus of UCA, donated his papers and farm to the University of Central Arkansas.  His collection is held by the UCA Archives.

Included with this email is Jimmy’s song, “The Bear Flew Over The Ocean,”  along with a photograph of Jimmy playing before Governor Winthrop Rockefeller of Arkansas, and Governor John Connally of Texas, circa 1968.


Jimmy is playing his homemade guitar.