Bobbie Gentry had a career in the music industry that most artists would die for. She won Grammy awards, boasted her own showcase in Vegas, and was a regular performer on the talk show circuit. At the peak of her success, she seemed to disappear, leaving music fans puzzled. Where’d you go, Bobbie?
Billie Joe Jumped Off The Tallahatchie Bridge
Born in Mississippi, Gentry studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and combined the music of her roots with classical training. She had thick brunette hair a la Priscilla Presley, and a husky, soulful voice.
Gentry’s first hit was “Ode to Billie Joe,” in 1967 a spare ballad with dark underpinnings, referencing a local boy who seemingly took his life with the line, “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”
I Just Sing Southern
“Billie Joe,” was a big hit. It sold millions of copies and knocked “All You Need Is Love,” from the Beatles from the number one spot on the charts. It also won Gentry three Grammy awards, including Best New Artist.
One of the unique qualities about Gentry was that she didn’t fit in any mold. In an age when record companies liked to market superstars in categories, she drew from blues and country styles but didn’t conform to the tradition of the country music industry. In a rare interview, she explained, “I just sing Southern.” She wore miniskirts, for one, and included pop, folk, and even psychedelic influences in her songwriting.
The Songs Remain
Following the success of her debut hit, Gentry recorded an astounding eight albums during the period of 1967 to 1971. Next, she took a cue from other country artists like Elvis and started a successful residency in Las Vegas, which she followed up with a few showcases. In a private ceremony, she married fellow country singer Jim Stafford. The couple had a son and then divorced quickly after that.
Gentry’s public appearances steadily declined. Her last appearance was in 1981, on the All-Star Salute to Mother’s Day, and she canceled a concert in 1983. Since then, there was a rumor she was spotted in Savannah, Georgia, and then more recently, in a gated community outside of Memphis.
Although Gentry’s hits remain classics and are often covered by contemporary musicians, the mystery remains— why did Bobbie Gentry recede from the limelight? Did the music industry move on without her? Did she find that she preferred a more private lifestyle? It’s possible we may never know. But her voice and songs remain.